On the heels of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial speech to Congress last Tuesday, former Romney shill and reliably wrong Washington Post opinion columnist and professional Likudnik, Jennifer Rubin, wrote an extraordinarily flawed article about the speech. Her assumptions regarding the nature and impacts of the speech, although bold, are predictably one-sided and riddled with poor logic.
Rubin labels Obama as “immune to reason”, a well-known trait of all Harvard law graduates and former Senators. She claims the negotiators are experiencing “a variation of Stockholm Syndrome, whereby they come to identify with their bargaining opponents more than the country they represent”. This is despite her argument that they hold the lion’s share of the leverage in the talks. If only the President would have had the good sense to appoint neoconservative alarmists to lead the delicate talks rather than career diplomats with decades of actual experience.
For Rubin, it’s not simply that Obama or the American negotiating team may be making a mistake. It’s that they’re completely incompetent to the point of being unable to do their jobs with any level of effectiveness, and only Congress can save the country. Only Congress can “derail a disastrous deal”.
The article parrots Netanyahu’s talking points about inevitable arms races and the death of the NPT which would proceed immediately upon Iran getting the bomb. Similar predictions were made about North Korea, and have failed to come about.
As far as regional arms races are concerned, history shows that nuclear deterrence can be relied on to ride to the rescue and prevent a major war. Israel and Pakistan already have the bomb. Turkey is a NATO member and thus shielded by three nuclear-armed states. The GCC states and Jordan host many Western military bases and it’s inconceivable that the US would allow them to suffer a nuclear attack without engaging in massive retaliation. The US has previously offered to extend its nuclear umbrella to Egypt and the rest of the region, and recently renewed the offer to extend the umbrella to its Gulf allies. Iran would risk annihilation by attacking any of these countries.
Rubin tries to paint the Iranians as aggressive warmongers and sponsors of terrorism. Under the current regime, Iran has never invaded or attacked another country. However, it has engaged in widespread covert activities and support for friendly groups and militias. Many countries do this. There is no commonly accepted definition for terrorism. But if we assume that it simply refers to intentionally killing civilians for political purposes, then each P5 member and basically every Arab Gulf state and Middle Eastern country (including Iran) has directly committed terrorist acts or supported groups that have.
The point isn’t to justify or defend Iran’s actions. It’s merely to point out that they are far from unusual among modern states, especially in the region. Iran is projecting power and defending its interests in whatever ways it can. It’s only considered a force for destabilization because the region has been “stabilized” by autocratic Western-aligned governments, something which Iran is most definitely not.
Every article purporting to analyze the results of a nuclear Iran should examine some basic and important questions. Could a nuclear Iran be contained? Could it be deterred? Don’t we need some kind of evidence that Iran is so different from other countries that its behaviour as a nuclear state would vary dramatically from those before it? Is it possible that rather than immediately enabling national suicide, a nuclear-armed Iran would simply enjoy the same luxury that Israel has enjoyed for decades, namely an insurance policy against external regime change or total national destruction?
Rubin chooses to simply ignore these questions. Or rather, assumes that they’re all answered with a resounding “no” by default.
The myth of the “suicidal revolutionary” regime in Tehran is surprisingly similar to the hyped up Cold War fears of Maoist China or the Stalinist USSR. Indeed, many of those arguing that only war can stop Iran, and that it must be stopped, are using eerily similar arguments to those employed by their ideological predecessors in relation to the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China. Frequent Soviet talk of world revolution and the global proletariat inspired genuine fear in Western leaders and led to calls for pre-emptive attacks from some quarters.
Mao was famous for his hyperbolic speeches on how he feared neither conventional nor atomic war, since China’s demographic advantages would not only ensure the country’s survival in a nuclear apocalypse, but would actually guarantee the victory of socialism globally. While Mao’s beliefs struck not only Western but Soviet leaders as dangerous and foolhardy, they were mostly part of an elaborate bluff that masked actual rational behaviour on the part of the Chinese, especially after they gained their own atomic stockpile. Nuclear deterrence held.
American and Israeli intelligence agencies agree that the behaviour of Iran has been similar to that of any other state pursuing its interests rationally. Apocalyptic suicide not included. They also agree that the Iranian government has yet to take the decision to build a bomb, something Rubin conveniently forgets to mention.
The end result of a nuclear deal is that taking this decision would be immediately apparent to the international community, and that the breakout time to reach the goal of even a single nuclear weapon would be somewhere in the neighbourhood of a year. Without a deal, no one will be able to monitor Iranian nuclear facilities or sound the alarm if they start moving towards this goal, and the breakout time would remain in the span of a few months.
The central premise of the article’s argumentation is flawed. Iran is not as desperate for a deal as Rubin assumes and has a fair bit of leverage. Iran has weathered years of sanctions and become quite adept at bypassing them. Its government and people have become accustomed to hardship. They also highly value the country’s nuclear program. The Iranian population is rallying behind the current moderate government and behind a nuclear deal. If it appears that a fair deal was scuppered because of American intransigence, this support will only increase.
Due to this support (and the country’s political, socioeconomic, and military structures), regime change is not in the cards. Due to this support, complete abandonment of enrichment activities is not in the cards. The only thing the lack of a deal and tougher sanctions will bring is a race to the bomb by Iran.
That’s why Rubin is wrong when she says there is a “false choice between this deal and war”. This is hardly a false dichotomy. It is a very real choice. With no deal in place and tougher sanctions being imposed, the only logical option Iran will have is to race for the bomb. Iran will try to present the international community with a fait accompli in the form of a nuclear program so advanced that the breakout period will be measured in weeks for several bombs, rather than months for a single one, all without inspections or restrictions.
Russia and China have already indicated verbally and through their actions that they find the current international sanctions regime unpalatable, and some of their companies have been violating it regularly. This will only increase if no deal is agreed upon. Both countries may even be willing to accept a nuclear Iran, if they blame the Americans for the failure of the talks.
Expecting Iran to completely capitulate is a fantasy. Harsher sanctions won’t be felt for months and Iran has demonstrated that this issue is of great importance to it. Iranian scientists have died for this program. How would Iran’s population look upon a government that betrayed the nuclear program that the country had fought so hard and sacrificed so much for? Regime change is more likely to come from nationalist elements within the country if the nuclear program is sacrificed than from dissatisfaction among the population as a result of sanctions
Expecting a deal that will entirely eliminate Iran’s nuclear infrastructure is a fantasy. That’s why Rubin is so wrong. That’s why Iran will race for a bomb if there is no deal, which will lead to either a massive regional war or a new nuclear weapons state in the Middle East, and possibly both. Those are the real choices. An imminent deal, a nuclear Iran, or a regional conflagration. If the Democrats can be trusted to do whatever it takes (including using armed force) to prevent a nuclear Iran, then there is no false choice. The options are a deal or a war.
Claiming anything else is possible is deceptive, and is an intentional political strategy pursued by the Israelis to increase pressure on their regional archrival and maintain their nuclear monopoly in the region. They fear the unleashing of Iranian economic potential.
But even Israeli intelligence agencies don’t buy it. It’s a logically flawed and intentionally deceptive political argument, nothing more. We would all do better to listen to fewer vendors of fear and war, like Netanyahu and Rubin. Disaster will come from following their advice, rather than from a negotiated settlement.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and cannot be attributed to iAffairs Canada nor any of its partners and sponsors.
Featured Photo from Wikipedia.