Is Iran a Threat? info
More and more people seem to take it as given that a nuclear-armed Iran would use its nuclear weapons to attack the United States. Yet, there is no plausible argument, and very little evidence, for that conclusion.
First, we found out that we could co-exist with the Soviet Union, a country with hundreds of times the number of nuclear weapons that Iran could ever hope to have. How did we co-exist? Very simple. We made it clear that if the Soviet Union attacked us with nuclear weapons, we would respond all-out against the Soviet Union with such weapons. The so-called doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD), though it was mad in a certain sense, worked. The Soviet Union never attacked us.
But, say the critics, Iran is different. They have all those mad mullahs over there who don’t care about life on earth and simply want to destroy — fill in the blank — Israel, the United States, or Israel and the United States. Yet there is little evidence that the leaders of Iran are mad. Instead, they are cautiously conservative.
Ah, say the critics, but President Ahmadinejad is a madman. Think about that term “madman.” I’ve never seen that term thrown around so loosely in my lifetime as in the years since 2001. “Saddam Hussein is a madman.” “Muhammad Gaddafi is a madman.” “Ahmadinejad is a madman.” The neoconservatives and others who make such charges rarely give evidence for it. They just assert that such people don’t care if they live or die and are, therefore, willing to do almost anything in pursuit of their goals. Notice that those same people virtually never make the charge against evil dictators who are U.S. allies. The best one-line refutation of this standard charge against foreign dictators that the U.S. government dislikes is one that President Carter’s secretary of defense, Harold Brown, gave when discussing the Iranian hostage crisis. When told that the Ayatollah Khomeini didn’t care whether he lived, Brown responded, “A man who makes it to age 80 cares whether he lives.”
Moreover, even if Ahmadinejad were mad — and there is no evidence that he is — the position of president, the job Ahmadinejad holds in Iran, is not like the position of president in the United States. Most of the power resides with a Muslim oligarchy and with the supreme guide, which is why the “supreme guide” had the power to tell Ahmadinejad to shut up when it came to talking about the Holocaust. The position of president there is kind of like the position of vice president in the United States, or at least the position of vice president before Dick Cheney.
For the last few years, the U.S. government and some other governments have wanted to dissuade Iran’s government from pursuing nuclear weapons. To do so, they have imposed increasingly stringent sanctions on Iran. It’s not clear how effective such sanctions can be. The companies and governments that the U.S. government threatens to penalize if they export gasoline to Iran might just be replaced by companies over which the U.S. government has little leverage. But let’s assume that the sanctions can do real harm. What happens next?
One thing we can be sure of is that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are not doing without gasoline. No. The people who do without gasoline, or with less gasoline, are everyday Iranians who have approximately zero say in the policies that the U.S. government wants to change. The further tragedy in the case of Iran is that there does appear to be a strong moderate element there that would like to have better relations with the United States, as well as with other people and governments in the West. By tightening the screws on Iran, the U.S. government is nipping this movement in the bud.
When I was a kid, the boy next door, once played a nasty trick on my friend, Paul. He held his cat in his arms, brought it within a few inches of Paul’s face, and pulled its tail. The suddenly angry cat bit Paul’s face. My friend and I were upset; we both thought that the cat, if it bit anyone, should have bitten the perpetrator. When governments impose economic sanctions on people in other countries, they, too, are pulling the cat’s tail. The intent was to get his cat to bite my friend. His plan worked. The intent of the government that imposes sanctions is often to get the people in the target country to “bite” their government. That typically doesn’t work. Why? People are smarter than cats.
But when Iranians suddenly find gasoline in short supply or more expensive, so that even getting to work or to the store is a challenge, they will wonder who is responsible. It won’t be hard for them to find out. Although the government of Iran has a great deal of power to censor what newspapers, radio, and television report, one piece of information that it’s sure not to censor is the role of outside governments in the country’s economic distress. What do people in embargoed countries do when they find out that foreign governments threaten them? They want to do what my neighbor’s cat would not do: bite the hand or face of the perpetrator. The idea that one country’s government can, by inflicting pain on people in another country, cause them to pressure their government to change is the stuff of fiction — and not good fiction.
But I do have a partial solution: End all current sanctions on Iran, end subsidies to Israel and all other countries in the Middle East, and pull all U.S. troops out of the Middle East. These actions, more than any others, would go a long way toward convincing Iranians that the U.S. government is not a threat. Otherwise, many of them will think, justifiably, that the U.S. government is like my cruel neighbor who used his innocent cat as a weapon.