A highly readable symposium on the subject has just been published by the Claremont Review of Books in its current (Spring) issue. A quick historical rundown reminds us that in October 2003, Iran confessed to the International Atomic Energy Agency that it had been doing clandestine nuclear experiments, which it promised to suspend. Eight months later, Tehran was once again detected in violation.
Another three months later, Iran was again detected delinquent on its promises, and there was dithering for another six months, bringing on, in June 2005, the presidency of the awful Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (think Anodyne Jack), the mullocratic chiliast who looks forward cheerfully to the end of the world of the infidels. Four months after his election, he said that "Israel must be wiped off the map," a slogan that has been seen adorning nuclear missiles imported from Russia, which has also been the source of Iran's uranium.
In February of this year, the IAEA turned the whole matter over to the United Nations, and Vice President Cheney gave a speech in which he said, "We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon."
The Claremont essayists appear to agree that nuclear pre-emption should be "strictly a last resort." In a successful effort to avoid the vulnerability of Saddam Hussein in 1981, Iran began dispersing its nuclear tadpoles, which reside now in as many as 24 sites and are correspondingly difficult to locate and destroy. There is, then, the matter of the counter-counter-terrorist resources of Iran. It is the second-largest oil producer in OPEC, exporting 4 million barrels per day. A single oil tanker destroyed, one essayist calculates, would raise the price of oil to $100 per barrel.
Mark Helprin contemplates a road ahead: "... with an intermediate-range strategic nuclear capacity (Iran) could deter American intervention, reign over the Gulf, further separate Europe from American Middle East policy, correct a nuclear imbalance with Pakistan, lead and perhaps unify the Islamic world, and thus create the chance to end Western dominance of the Middle East, and, with a single shot, destroy Israel."
Victor Davis Hanson summarizes U.S. diplomatic initiatives in the past. "Former President Bill Clinton last year apologized to the Iranian mullocracy for American support for the Shah 30 years ago and CIA espionage a half century past, but not to the American people for allowing Pakistan, Iran and North Korea to begin in earnest their nuclear acquisition programs on his watch. Jimmy Carter should turn up soon, calling for sensitive understanding of Iran's unique security needs; indeed, the closer Iran gets to the bomb, the more the Left will say that we can live with it."
Are there not economic sanctions as coercive as war? "Yes," writes the scholar Angelo Codevilla. "Yes indeed! Total economic sanctions can be deadlier than atom bombs. Were Europe and America to impose a total trade embargo on Iran -- and enforce it by including any third party that trades with Iran -- the Iranians would quickly be forced to choose between nukes and starvation. But this embargo would be war, not just against Iran but potentially against Russia."
Codevilla arrives nicely at the strategic point. "Making sure that means and ends match one another, meaning that the actions we take actually produce the ends we profess, has ever been the essence of prudence. Machiavelli taught that enemies are to be caressed or extinguished."
The final consequences of an Iranian nuclear arsenal could profoundly affect America and Americans. As much is so of the North Korean bomb. The distance between Pyongyang and California is huge, comparable to the distance between Tehran and New York. But just as China, Russia and Japan are the geographic girdle of North Korea, so also Russia, the Middle East and Europe are next door to Iran. They are not the superpower, but they should devise strategy for their parts of the globe. The United States can do nothing more than to promise cooperation, and stand by with, of course, the ultimate weapon, directed not at nuclear sites but at civilian centers.