True global players do not have to engage in such theater to prove their power. Iran does because Iran is weak. The most resistance they can muster to the hundreds of thousands of Coalition troops surrounding their borders (Afghanistan, Iraq, Turkey) is some low-level warfare in Iraq and grabbing a handful of lightly armed sailors from a dinghy.
That’s why their nuclear weapons program should be of such concern to the west. An atomic Iran allows the Ayatollahs to back their blustering with a credible nuclear deterrent. And while Iran is pathetic through the lens of a state-versus-state paradigm, they have mastered the cruel disciplines of terrorism and its asymmetrical cousins.
From the terrorists in Iraq to the jihadists in Gaza to Hezbollah in Lebanon, all roads of terrorism lead to Tehran. Imagine how far they would be willing to spread the revolution, knowing that they lived under the protective umbrella of a nuclear deterrent. Think Cold War Russia, spreading the communist ideology to all corners of the globe, knowing that as long as they could hold the West at risk with nuclear weapons, military reaction would be limited.
The future could witness American troops fighting Iran-backed jihadis in the Horn of Africa, the Philippines, the Middle East, even the West, with the West, ironically, paying the bills by purchasing Tehran’s oil.
It would be World War by proxy, just like the Cold War, within a new paradigm of global insurgency, where Iran funds and fosters an Iraq-style insurgency in any theater that is ripe for that brand of revolt. It's a simple concept-- the more of America's resources that Tehran can tie up fighting in other areas, the fewer resources America has available to attack the source.
So, if Iran does manage to develop nuclear arms, would they be crazy enough to use them? Some say yes, pointing to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s frequent use of apocalyptic rhetoric. Some say no, pointing to Iran’s tendency to talk the talk, but not walk the walk. I happen to agree with the latter.
Dictators, autocrats, and theocrats all value their power and the preservation of that power above all else-- even if they do happen to think that they are one Tomahawk strike away from 72 virgins. That’s why you don’t see high-ranking Mullahs detonating themselves in Israeli marketplaces. Martyrdom is for peasants.
The real threat is in the deterrence. With Iran’s blustering backed by nuclear weapons, we can expect to see more kidnappings, more terrorism, and more carnage. An emboldened Tehran would feel perfectly comfortable escalating global terrorism to frightening levels, turning relatively benign areas of operation into new, individual Iraqs.
Right now, only two nations seem to understand this-- America and Israel. And while it’s likely that one of the pair will turn Iran’s nuclear program into a pumpkin before the clock strikes midnight, that does not mean that we can afford to twiddle our thumbs as the paper tiger becomes a real tiger.
John Noonan has been published in The Washington Post, Richmond Times-Dispatch, and National Review, and was a contributor to the Encylopedia of World War I and World War II. He blogs at www.op-for.com.