Two minutes to Midnight

William F. Buckley
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Posted: Aug 05, 2006 12:01 AM

The threats and counterthreats mount, as also dazed questions that attempt to segregate loyalties. Some are saying that sectarian divisions are distractions and that they will soon give way as transcendent concerns assert themselves.

In Malaysia, Muslim leaders are meeting, an emergency gathering of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. They listened to the president of Indonesia, who remarked the deteriorating situation in the Middle East and rang in as one more man of influence talking about apocalyptic developments. "From (the existing situation) it will be just one stop away to that ultimate nightmare: a clash of civilizations."

Egypt's grand mufti, Sheikh Ali Gomaa, declares that supporting the guerrillas in Iraq is a "religious duty." Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood's General Guidance Council, had informed his flock that the United States' purpose in invading Iraq was to divide Muslims and that it was better to support a Hezbollah-Iranian agenda than an "American-Zionist" one.

U.S. analysts cannot expect to separate safely all the constituent factors involved in the Lebanon crisis. The challenge is to seek out salient considerations, and here, ironically, is one enunciated by Henry Kissinger, and a second enunciated by the British historian who is engaged in writing a biography of Kissinger.

Sir Alistair Horne introduces his essay, published last Friday (Aug. 4) in London's Daily Telegraph, by reminding readers of his deeply informed background. He served as an intelligence officer in Palestine right after World War II; seven of his books have been translated into Hebrew by the Israeli Defense Force, and two of these were hailed by Ariel Sharon.

Horne proposes a nuclear-free zone for the Middle East, "running from the Mediterranean to the frontiers of nuclear Pakistan. This would require an internationally backed, total clampdown on Iranian nuclear development. At the same time, it would involve Israel's relinquishment -- or at least mothballing -- of its nuclear capability. To protect Israeli interests, and assure its security, such a scheme would have to be backed by an American commitment to 'take out' instantly any Iranian, or other Middle Eastern, facility that threatened to cheat."

One day earlier, Henry Kissinger appeared on Charlie Rose's show. He said that the United States has a sovereign obligation to prevent Iran from consummating its nuclear-weapon enterprise. Asked to specify the means by which this might be accomplished, Kissinger retreated. This cannot be ascribed to cowardice or to a mind barren of ideas. Henry Kissinger doesn't have official duties these days, but he is, worldwide, the senior human being in international experience. He can't be expected, even for Charlie Rose, to divulge what it is he might have recommended to President Bush the day before. But we are entitled to assume that if he lists the proscription of nuclear weapon components for Iran as a responsibility of the superpower, he has in mind a program that might effect this.

A total freeze on Iran could be done and would have arresting consequences. But Horne suggests that general denuclearization may be an indispensable step in bringing this about.

"Of what realistic value is Israel's nuclear deterrent, anyway? It is impossible to think of any circumstance, bar a modern-day Masada, when Israel would use it without American backing; in which case, the U.S. would probably be the first to press the button." Skepticism about the usefulness of the bomb goes further. Consider the British deterrent: "Whom does it actually deter? The French? ... For tiny Israel, with its overstretched armed forces, the same economic arguments apply with even greater force. In the Middle East, certainly, Israel's nuclear arsenal has so far done nothing to deter terrorism over the years -- or even a conventional war."

Henry Kissinger said to Charlie Rose that he thought it a responsibility of the United States to extract from the regime in Tehran a description of what kind of security would satisfy Iran, in the absence of nuclear power. What could be guaranteed to Iran, as to Israel, that would induce them to consider life without the superbomb?

This is very difficult to answer. Some nations that have the bomb want it in order to ... be a nuclear power. Apart from that, it's hard to visualize a means of satisfying Iran that it can be forever secure from -- whom? Pakistan? Turkmenistan? And what could persuade Israel to jettison its nuclear bomb? Short of conversion of the Muslims to other gods?