When it chose to post "We Can't Stop Iran From Going Nuclear, So Stop Pretending That We Can," the New Republic no doubt thought it was a quintessentially moderate piece on U.S.-Iran relations. The author, Barry Gewen, an editor at the New York Times Book Review who sometimes writes about foreign affairs, writes:
Just about every major publication in America and England (and no doubt Israel as well) has contributed to the debate. All possible viewpoints and positions have been expressed... Yet [as] someone who has reached the conclusion that military action against Iran would be a bad idea... I worry that the way the argument has been framed makes military action all but inevitable.
So far, it sounds like the article the New Republic had hoped for. After quoting writers and statesmen, Gewen writes, "Taken together, all these statements add up to a consensus that if sanctions don't work, the U.S. or Israel will move to the next step and bomb Iran."
Nothing if not well-meaning, Gewen comes at the issue from another angle.
The key assumption here seems to be that we have it within our power to stop Iran in its tracks by military means. But do we? Read the fine print of the debate and it becomes clear that very few commentators believe we do. Instead, what's being argued is the much more modest proposition that we can delay Iran from going nuclear... The advantages of denying Iran the bomb are self-evident, but how much will be gained from delay, and how much lost?... The question answers itself: Delay doesn't get the job done, and probably leaves us worse off.
Of course, "delaying Iran" means military strikes, some of "the possible negative consequences of [which] have already been catalogued." Gewen concludes that "the debate we're having is all wrong. We shouldn't be discussing whether or not to bomb but what to do once Iran succeeds in going nuclear."
While many of us, from Gewen to the further left, want to believe that Iran can't yet be prevented from developing nuclear means via a policy heavier on carrots than sticks, Gewen makes some sense. But, despite his good intentions, he goes awry when he considers how to handle an Iran with nuclear-weapons capability.
Should Israel be offered security guarantees from the U.S., and perhaps even suggested for NATO membership? [Yikes! Sorry, that jumped out. -- RW] Should other countries in the region be brought under the American nuclear umbrella?
In other words, as with almost all mainstream opinion pieces about U.S.-Iran relations, there's no mention of the United States pursuing a policy of nuclear reciprocity -- that is, disarmament. Of course, since the Obama administration is attempting to secure the Senate votes to ratify a new START, that may be assumed. But to think it hasn't escaped Iran how compromised this treaty is, nor how the administration is selling the disarmament farm by promising $16 billion to the nuclear weapons industry, is to sell it short.
Conservatives, as well as many "realists," maintain that substantive disarmament measures on the part of the United States doesn't provide it with any "credibility" to nations aspiring to acquire nuclear weapons. But the insistence of the Non-Aligned (to any major power bloc) Movement on interpreting Article IV of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty to the letter suggests otherwise. One man's vague -- "Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to... nuclear disarmament" -- is another man's "You promised."
As Jonathan Schell says, the most dangerous illusion is that "we can hold on to nuclear weapons while at the same time stopping their proliferation to other countries. That is an absolutely unworkable proposition. It just cannot happen in the real world."
Attempting to de-link nonproliferation from disarmament is a fool's game. Failure to feature substantive disarmament prominently in the Iran nuclear debate virtually guarantees that Gewen's wondering aloud about security guarantees and nuclear umbrella is the best-case scenario.
First posted at the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.