A nuclear Iran: Good for America?


According to Adam Lowther, a defense analyst at the Air Force Research Institute who has an Op-Ed in Tuesday’s New York Times, Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear bomb could be good for America.

It would make the Arab states in the Persian Gulf indebted to the United States for protection against the threat from Iran, giving the U.S. leverage to get lower oil prices and political reforms in Arabia, cooperation on fighting Al Qaeda terrorists, and bigger market for the U.S. defense industry exports. Iran’s getting the bomb would also push Israel and the Palestinians to reach a negotiated agreement, because a nuclear strike on Israel would devastate both peoples, and making peace reduces the likelihood Iran would use its nuclear arsenal to attack Israel. Lowther concludes:

What about the downside — that an unstable, anti-American regime would be able to start a nuclear war? Actually, that’s less of a risk than most people think. Unless the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameini, and his Guardian Council chart a course that no other nuclear power has ever taken, Iran should become more responsible once it acquires nuclear weapons rather than less. The 50-year standoff between the Soviet Union and the United States was called the cold war thanks to the deterrent effect of nuclear weapons…

Iran may think its enrichment plans will put fear into the hearts of Americans. In fact, it should give us hopes of a renaissance of American influence in the Middle East.

Hurrah! If only the parties in the Middle East would see the light of these points!

Unfortunately, there’s more than a little wishful thinking here.

It’s true that an Iranian nuclear weapon represents a threat first and foremost to nations in the Middle East (both Israel and the Sunni Arab regimes) before the rest of the Western world. Iran’s belligerent and expansionist approach toward its neighbors is evidence of that, and Arab nations are worried about Iran. But that hasn’t translated into much more leverage for the United States.

Arab nations are also worried about American belligerence and expansionism in the region, eyeing the U.S. presence in Iraq and not-too-distant Afghanistan with skepticism and some measure of fear and anger. It’s unlikely Arab states would rush to the American side in a Cold War-type confrontation between the U.S. and Iran. For its part, the United States would be loathe to rush into an agreement to provide Arab states with a nuclear umbrella and thereby commit America to war with a nuclear-armed Iran in the event that two Muslim nations in the Middle East go to battle against one another.

On the Israeli-Palestinian question, a nuclear Iran would give the Palestinians even more of a reason to stay away from the negotiating table. The Palestinians are not threatened by a nuclear Iran; they’re buoyed by the prospect. Just as the Palestinians cheered Saddam’s Iraq when its Scuds potentially threatened them as well, so too they cheer a nuclear Iran even if it could bring them harm. For the Palestinians, a nuclear attack on Israel would bring the ultimate martyrdom too many of them crave.

Finally, Lowther’s assumption that the Iranian regime would not use its nuclear arsenal is just plain unsafe. The Iranian regime already supports terrorist groups around the world, including Hezbollah, Hamas and those groups’ operatives in South America; the Iranian Revolutionary Guards already have shown a willingness to use deadly force against Iran’s own population, and there’s little to stop Iran from exporting its nuclear weaponry to its terrorist allies, who would be even more likely to use their imported nukes. The world cannot afford to gamble on a nuclear-armed Iran.

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