Friday, January 27, 2012

Nuclear Option

Andrew Sullivan is an insightful and eloquent political commentator.

An original thinker who doesn’t tow any party line, he is a self-described political conservative who adores Ronald Reagan but who endorsed Barack Obama in the 2008 Presidential election. An early supporter of the Iraq war, he lost faith in the Bush administration and has called the war a mistake. As an advocate of small government, he supported Ron Paul but he was not shy about criticizing the candidate for his irresponsible handling of racist newsletters. Sullivan is not afraid to change his mind, to wring his hands and to write from the heart. This is part of his appeal. Although his views can surprise and frustrate the reader, he doesn’t back down or squirm away - he defends his positions and shifting opinions thoughtfully.

Most of the time.

Earlier this month, Sullivan’s blog, The Dish, offered an entry under the  heading, “Why Ron Paul Is Right and Obama Is Wrong About Iran.”  OK, I’m interested.

According to Sullivan, Obama’s stance – that the U.S. must not allow Iran to develop or acquire nuclear arms – is foolish. Foolish because Iran will eventually have this capacity regardless of our demands. Sullivan says that Ron Paul, alone among the candidates, understands that Iran sees international sanctions against it as an act of war and that our own policies are only motivating Iran to try harder to obtain weapons. Sullivan also argues that 50 years ago the U.S. didn’t want China to get nukes either but things didn’t work out so badly. I’m not persuaded by this line of argument (Is theocratic Iran really like China?) but it’s standard fare. One side says that an Iran with nukes would be catastrophic. The other side says “oh, come on, How bad would it really be?”

But then Sullivan gets interesting:

"Obama also argues that he opposes Iran's nukes because of proliferation in the region. At which point one must loudly cough "Ahem." Only one country in the region has illegally, in defiance of internatinal [sic] law and the NPT and US policy, has nuclear weapons and it's Israel, not any Arab state."

This is hogwash. Yes, everyone understands that Israel has nuclear weapons. It’s probably the worst kept secret in the history of geopolitics. But possessing such weapons violates no law. Israel is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and cannot be in violation of its terms. It’s certainly the case that most nations in the world want Israel to sign the NPT, which would subject Israel to international IAEA oversight and commit them to eventual disarmament. But as a sovereign nation they don’t have to sign the treaty.

But here is what a nation cannot do: 1) sign the treaty, 2) receive the benefits the treaty provides – exchange of technology, assistance and aid in developing nuclear energy etc. - and then, 3) violate, with impunity, the terms of the treaty and their agreed upon obligations to the IAEA, European Union and United Nations. That is precisely what Iran has done.

What are the United States and the International community to do about that?  What are we to make of Iran's history of proliferating the weaponry it already possesses to the likes of Hezbollah? These are fair topics for argument. But the familiar trope “If Israel has nuclear weapons, then why not Iran” attempts to draw a false equivalence. Sullivan ought to know better. It’s the sort of rhetoric that undermines an honest assessment of the vital issue – the consequences of allowing the Islamic Republic of Iran to enter the nuclear club and the costs of preventing it.

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