Iran is a problem without an answer


Photo by Daniella Zalcman

The past few months have seen a tremendous spike in antagonism between the West and Iran’s political leadership. Relations have never been too hot, but, with the latter seemingly closing in on obtaining nuclear capabilities, America and its allies have resolved to ratchet up pressure: first, through diplomatic condemnation; second, through trade embargos; and, if that fails, where does that leave us at stage three?

Military action would seem the natural segue; but America does not hold the appetite for another war – certainly not one carved out with purpose identical to that of the Iraq invasion. However, fundamental to the very debate of Iran becoming a nuclear power is whether it is simply right for them to do so. So, should we be concerned?

The simple answer is: ‘yes.’ While some deluded individuals might clamour that, as a sovereign country, it is Iran’s right to determine their own affairs; as well the fact that, if the USA holds such nuclear facilities: why not Iran? Well, plainly: America is a force for good; acting as mechanism to proliferate democracy, liberalism, capitalism etc. Iranian nuclear capability is out of the question. It would equip them with a wholly disproportionate influence over the world; hell-bent on a hostile ideology of violence, oppression, and conflict. While cynics will instantaneously moan, America is undeniably, for the greater part, a land of peace, and a beacon of liberty.

Furthermore, as our Foreign Secretary, William Hague argued recently, if Iran is successful and we do nothing, it would likely induce a new Cold War in the Middle East; whereby Iran and an increasingly maverick Israel would have the keys to a potentially ‘mutually assured destruction’. Nuclear armageddon would remain a very distinct possibility. Would we really want a return to an epoch of total fear?

The reality of the situation, however, is that America and the rest of the West are consumed by fear and wracked with guilt about ‘another Iraq.’ The fiasco of an Iraqi-style intervention whereby no nuclear warheads were found was undoubtedly a searing blow to American prestige. As James Risen of the New York Times so pointedly affirms, “the ghosts of Iraq [are] haunting” the C.I.A. and the country at large.

If they were to come around to the idea that developing a nuclear programme is against their interests, this crisis of potentially explosive proportions would ground to a halt; and, for this, I admire President Obama’s principled decision of a diplomatic solution still being available to Iran. However, with Ahmadinejad under growing strain from the Ayatollah and the religious circle, a refusal to negotiate is simply inevitable. Following such a refusal, anything other than military intervention would be tantamount to appeasement; and jeopardize the stability of the global order. With Obama’s foreign policy thus far having been impeccable, there are high hopes of a sunny and tranquil resolution. What is clear is that Obama would not want to be another Chamberlain.

Therefore, Iran’s volatility needs more than a degree of wariness from the West; instead, fully-fledged military intervention: with neutralization of the threat primary; and imposition of our political views very much secondary. Nonetheless, in the words of Winston Churchill, “an appeaser is one who feeds the crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.” And, not wanting to be eaten by any reptile, it is clear that any credible evidence – not falsified or exaggerated like in the case of Iraq – is sufficient warrant to legitimate military action – and any discontents of that viewpoint are bare-faced apologists. Iraq was then; Iran is now. And, if not intervention, then what does that say? That we are doomed.

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  1. Any article that unabashedly calls America “a force for good,” describes Obama’s foreign policy as “impeccable” and unreservedly advocates a military intervention against Iran is perhaps overly naive. As a piece written for a university newspaper I would expect a greater degree of balance and a more mature political outlook. This article oversimplifies a complex issue in a complex region.

  2. “America is undeniably, for the greater part, a land of peace, and a beacon of liberty” … really?! Your image of Iran obtaining a “wholly disproportionate influence over the world; hell-bent on a hostile ideology of violence, oppression, and conflict” is exactly what the “impeccable” USA maintain. I’m hardly an apologist but this article strikes me as very one-sided.

  3. Sun goes up, moon goes down, Alex publishes another tl;dr comment on an article about international affairs, but here it is:

    The problem with invading Iran isn’t to do with the nation’s right to ‘determine its own affairs’ or any other kind of issues of sovereignty. The problem is that the issue of a nuclear Iran being a military threat isn’t even a concern to anybody except pundits who are a) paid to say that kind of thing by right-wing think tanks and b) exceptionally stupid people. Read through some of the actual US state department reports or some of the discussions going on in foreign policy journals and you quickly become aware that Iran having the bomb poses a threat different to the classical knee-jerk concern that they’ll drop it on Israel. So what is the threat, exactly?

    Iran is a very poor country, destitute and its people run into poverty by a brutal theocracy. It has, comparatively speaking, not much military capacity, even with a nuclear weapon. The presence of a nuclear bomb in Iran would be largely symbolic. Just about everything I’ve read coming from any of the officials advising on a tough line with Iran and academic commentators in favour of intervention of some kind regard the Nuclear Iran scenario as being a threat to US interests in the region. Put simply, Iran could employ some kind of Mad Bomber tactic which makes their behaviour unpredictable and stops the US being able to exercise its own military and economic interests in the region.

    The author’s concern about ‘nuclear armageddon’ is therefore surely overblown, since Iran would possess a grand total of one bomb, whereas the other military powers in the world possess thousands. Look at North Korea’s latest failed rocket launch to have some kind of idea of the comedic value of a country punching above its weight. Iran wouldn’t actually consider launching the bomb as a first strike against Israel even if they had the technological capacity to do so. Comparisons to Chamberlain are meaningless since the exact same arguments could be used to justify invasion of North Korea, who have actually shown themselves to be a much more belligerent and irrational state, but nobody advocates military intervention against them for obvious reasons.

    The problem is not Iraq. I sort of half-agree with the author that this isn’t a comparable situation, but only because I don’t think complex issues like this are usually helped by direct analogy. The issue with military intervention in Iran is that the justifications, which are largely based on Western exercise of economic and military power, are not compelling enough to justify what would be a humanitarian catastrophe. The comparison with Iraq is that if you destabilise the country (an extremely likely scenario even if you don’t go full-scale regime change) then you have the blood of thousands of people on your hands for a ‘threat’ which is largely imaginary.

    Also, general note to people writing about international affairs in SCAN Comment: please use more references than either the Cold War or World War II, since there have been far more wars than that which offer much more interesting and helpful analogies.

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