Stopping Iran’s Nuclear Program Requires Leadership

Whether war should ever be waged with Iran, everyone agrees it’s better if it isn’t.

Conservative columnist Pat Buchanan speaks at George Washington University in Washington DC, April 18, 2011
Conservative columnist Pat Buchanan speaks at George Washington University in Washington DC, April 18, 2011 (Nixon Foundation)

There is an odd alliance in the United States between libertarian and Old Right noninterventionists and the far left who fear a war with Iran. They are rightly concerned that the current strategy of applying sanctions and threatening airstrikes unless the Iranians rein in their nuclear program will lead to conflict.

Rightly, because although the sanctions and warmongering are designed to prevent war, they will necessarily lead to it if Iran refuses to change its behavior. The cost of not initiating hostilities would be American and Western credibility.

Conservative commentator and once Republican Party presidential contender Pat Buchanan lays out the Old Right’s case in a recent blog post where he argues that the American intelligence community and the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei are of the same opinion — that Iran does not aspire to possess atomic weapons.

Assuming that the intelligence services indeed adhere to that position (even if once they did, it is doubtful that they do) and setting aside that there is a difference between having nuclear weapons and being able to produce them, Buchanan is correct in one respect: actually making a bomb would take time and not go undetected. “We would learn about it and have time to exercise a military option long before it came to pass.”

So even Buchanan sees the logic of preventing a regime of religious fanatics from being able to menace Western allies across the Persian Gulf with nuclear weapons. There is a strategic imperative to preserve the balance of power.

The fact that Pakistan already has nuclear weapons changing nothing in this equation, no matter Buchanan’s effort to draw attention to it. Whether or not Pakistan should concern the West more than Iran is insignificant to the question whether latter should be allowed to have nuclear weapons in the first place

But Buchanan is also right to bring up two more situations that are comparable: President Dwight Eisenhowever’s invitation of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev to Washington in 1959 despite his brutal suppression of the Hungarian uprising three years earlier and Richard Nixon’s trip to China in 1972 where Chairman Mao had just murdered millions in his Cultural Revolution. Ronald Reagan, similarly, reached out to the leaders of the country he simultaneously denounced as an “evil empire.”

Iran, writes Buchanan, is not remotely in their league, “either in crimes attributed to the regime or any actual or potential threat to the United States.”

Have we no statesmen who can sit down, like Reagan at Reykjavik, and negotiate with Iran’s leaders for verifiable guarantees that she is not moving to nuclear weapons in return for something approaching normal relations?

It appears not. Instead, the difficulty of reaching a compromise is left to keen Iranian diplomats and representatives of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany. A noble effort, for sure, but one that has failed to deliver a breakthrough in six years of talks.

Different political camps may differ on whatever war should ever be waged to stop Iran’s nuclear program but all sides agree that war is undesirable. If the world is to avert it, it’s time the adults step in.

Comments

  1. However did we get it all so backwards? As a signatory to the Non Proliferation Treaty, Iran has an internationally recognized right to develop and implement nuclear technology. Israel rejected the NPT and has no such right. Yet, the Jewish state has ICBM nukes and openly threatens Iran; actually campaigns for war against Iran. Israel, not Iran, should be sanctioned and forced to reveal its nuclear machinations to IAEA inspection. However did we get it all so backwards?