Making sense of the situation in Iran
The events in Iran cannot be effectively summarized in a college newspaper column. The questions befuddle even the best American foreign policy think-tanks. How does one make sense of the present situation in Iran, regarding their pursuit of nuclear weapons and the potentiality of some kind of military action by Israel or the United States?
The nature of the American military in global affairs is currently undergoing an extensive reinvention, in large part due to two realities. First, the trajectories of the recently-ended Iraq War and ongoing war in Afghanistan have cast doubt on whether or not the military can play an effective role in nation-building efforts. Although, the loss of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein, are obviously positive events, the United States has significantly destabilized those two countries, and neither can be said to have a truly optimistic future. Take that as a rebuke of interventionism as a political doctrine. Secondly, the ongoing economic climate means that the United States simply cannot continue the same pattern of immense defense expenditures. Several American political leaders have made it clear that the military will shift in a direction towards a more streamlined, tactical force and away from conventional brute force. This transition forms a backdrop to the building conflict with Iran.
There are all sorts of philosophical questions that are relevant to Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. For one, does any country have the right to have such weapons? Second, does the United States, as the only country that has actually used such weapons in combat (and thus inflict the immense devastation associated with them), have the right to police nuclear ownership? There is an immense hypocrisy on the part of the United States, and it is part of a larger East-West schism in which developing nations that aspire to military influence find their advancement hindered by the already existing world powers.
But there is an equal argument for the position that a nuclear Iran is a major threat and that Iran cannot be trusted with such weapons. Since 1979, Iran has had contentious relations with most Western countries and has performed several actions to instigate the ire of the global community. A country like Israel has good reason to view a nuclear Iran as a threat to their existence. The official stance of the Iranian government is to not recognize Israel, and Iranian President/figurehead Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has made great strains to cultivate an especially inflammatory brand of political anti-Semitism since his election in 2005. Although the true power in Iran lies with the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, his relative silence functions as tacit approval for most of Ahmadinejad’s rants.
Of course, there is a difference between words and actions. Iran has recently raised the stakes with token oil embargos (although they would impact members of the European Union to varying degrees) and by blocking UN access to certain sensitive nuclear sites. A recent New York Times article noted that Israel does not have the capacity for an effective pre-emptive strike on Iranian nuclear facilities, although the United States certainly has the logistical capability to do so. Any attack would likely be reciprocated by an Iranian military action. In American foreign policy, the past 11 years have been marked by constant conflict or uncertainty. The end is not quite in sight.