(Author’s note: this piece was written around 5:30 a.m. on Wednesday. Events may have changed between then and its publication, but I remain sadly convinced it is simply more “cheat and retreat” tactics.)
With Iran’s President Ahmadinejad’s letter to President Bush — the first official communication between his country and ours in at least 20 years — a lot of folks are hoping that this is a sign that the current tensions can and will be resolved peacefully. Me, I’m not so sure.
As several others have pointed out (most notably Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch, who knows his stuff), the letter very closely follows the Koran’s required steps before waging war: a call for the other side to accept Islam. To the devout, only once that offer has been made and rejected is it permissible to wage war. And Ahmadinejad is very, very committed to his faith. (Hat tip to Rodney Graves of the Wizbang Bomb Squad.)
Also, Iran and the world have been reminded that Israel is very much an Old Testament kind of nation, and doesn’t put much stock in Jesus’ “turn the other cheek” style of foreign policy. Recently, Israel’s Vice Premier Shimon Peres did the unthinkable and answered Iran’s belligerence in kind. Peres — long considered one of the more dovelike Israeli leaders — apparently got sick of Iran’s declaring that Israel “should be wiped off the map” and would suffer the first blow should the United States or any other nation strike against Iran.
“They want to wipe out Israel … Now when it comes to destruction, Iran too can be destroyed [but] I don’t suggest to say an eye for an eye,” Peres told Reuters. “Israel would defend itself under any condition but we don’t look upon it as an Iranian-Israeli conflict exclusively… [Iran] is basically a danger to the world, not just to us.”
(Hat tip here to Meryl Yourish)
And now Iran is threatening to formally withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty if its non-compliance is brought before the UN Security Council. As others have so ably described it, Iran’s position seems to be “if you try to force us to abide by the treaty and play by the rules, then we won’t play!” The practical translation: we’re going to do it; we can either pretend not to and stay signed on to the treaty, or we can get rid of the tereaty.
I really hope that there can be a diplomatic solution to Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but I don’t see many options. Many times, diplomacy boils down to three options: carrot, stick, and compromise. And I don’t see how any of those three could work.
Carrot: Offer Iran something it wants more than nuclear weapons, or at least will accept in lieu of them. There really isn’t much we can offer them that is anywhere near as enticing as the respect (well, “fear” might be a better term) they will enjoy for possessing nuclear weapons, short of destroying Israel for them and completely withdrawing from the Middle East — and that ain’t gonna happen.
Stick: Demonstrate to them that we can force their compliance through punitive measures, such as trade embargoes, economic and diplomatic solutions, and military force. They’ve already shown that they don’t give a tinker’s damn about the first two, and the third has been quietly tried — and found wanting. They simply don’t think we have the ability or the will to carry out any threats.
Compromise: Each side gives a little to get a little. The problem is that possession of nuclear weapons is like virginity or pregnancy: there’s no kinda-sorta, yes and no answer. Iran might propose that we let them have just a couple of nukes, and they promise to only use them on Israel, but that’s about the only compromise I can see them accepting.
Now, I’m no trained diplomat or great political scholar or noted historian. But those are the options I see before us, and I don’t see any of them working too well. Instead, I see Iran playing a variant of Saddam’s decade-long “cheat and retreat” dance, taking two steps forward and one step back, until they actually have nuclear weapons (presuming they don’t already) unless somehow stopped. And once they possess them, I doubt they will suddenly be overcome with sanity and responsibility like India and Pakistan were.
I really, really don’t want to see the United States involved in yet one more front on the War On Terror. I sincerely hope that we can find a way to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of the Iranians — who I have little doubt would promptly use them on Israel, most likely triggering a nuclear exchange across the Middle East, leading to the deaths of millions. But I see few signs of that happening peacefully.