In his January 2002 State of the Union speech President George W Bush highlighted the "Axis of Evil", three countries which constitute a threat of nuclear proliferation and support for terrorism. He took care of Saddam Hussein's Iraq (at great personal political cost). Dennis Rodman is working on Kim Jong Un in North Korea. That leaves Iran to Barack Obama and John Kerry. What is really at stake?
George Friedman of Stratfor has written extensively on American policy in the Middle East and Iran in particular, getting beyond the New York Times and Fox News headlines. Some of the themes from Stratfor and elsewhere which are lost in 30 second sound bites:
- After President Kennedy took the world to the brink in the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and Nikita Kruschov blinked, world leaders took a somber look and most pulled back. The 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty has been signed by 189 countries. Around 1970 many countries discontinued their nuclear weapons programs - Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Egypt, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan. With the breakup of the Soviet Union Belarus, Kazakhstan, and the Ukraine returned their nuclear weapons to Russia. Libya gave up their program in 2003. Israel ended Syria's program in 2007. Today, the nuclear club includes China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. A freightening enough bunch.
- The Doomsday Clock of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists was set back significantly in the early 90's, but has recently been ticking back toward midnight amid concern about North Korea, Iran, and terrorism.
- The position of Iran in the Muslim world is particularly troublesome for its potential to trigger neighboring responses. The rift between the Shia (primarily Iran) and the Sunni (just about everybody else) is akin to the Catholic-Protestant divide in Europe in the 16th and 17th Centuries - except that it goes back millenia and contains a Persian-Arab animosity. If Iran goes nuclear, Saudi Arabia for one must follow.
- Iran didn't matter much to the United States until after World War II when oil became important and, perhaps more important, Iran contained the ideal location for a monitoring station to intercept "down range" electronic signals for Russian ICBM tests. The CIA staged a coup in 1953 to install Mohammad Reza Pahlavi as Shah, leading to a revolt in 1979 installing the current Islamist leaders to whom the US is "The Great Satan".
- Enter Barack Obama, battered by a failing domestic agenda, and John Kerry, eager to outdo Hillary Clinton by reaching an historic agreement - if not brokering an Israeli-Palistinian deal, then by reaching an accord on Iran's nuclear program. In negotiations, the stronger position goes to the party most willing to walk away. Not us.
- And then there is the aftermath of the Syria debacle where Russia bailed out the "Assad must go"/ chemical weapons "red line" Obama administration, leaving our credibility shredded among both our adversaries and our allies. This is the international version of "You can keep your healthcare. Period." Fortunately, France and Israel are stepping up to provide some credibility to any negotiated outcome.
And the specifics to look for? Start with a verifyable dismantling of the nuclear reactor at Arak and a full inventory of nuclear material which could be used in weapons. Absent that, we should follow the lead of the Israelis and the French and continue to turn the screws on economic sanctions. But if that is accomplished, there should be credit all around.
This week's video is appropriate for Veterans Day - and all time.