On Wednesday morning, Jan. 13, in Tehran, a motorcyclist drove alongside a grey Peugot and affixed a magnetic bomb to its exterior. The blast killed Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, a scientist, deputy director of Iran’s uranium enrichment lab. He was the fifth nuclear scientist murdered since 2007. For the assassins, generally believed to be Israeli, the way to stop Iran from developing its nuclear capacity is to murder its scientists. And, as was to be expected, Iran retaliated with a series of car bombs in India and Georgia.
So opens the best article I have seen on the Iranian nuclear question, Paul R. Pillar’s “We Can Live with a Nuclear Iran,” in the Washington Monthly. Pillar, who teaches national security studies at Georgetown University, was the national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia from 2000 to 2005. He makes, in my opinion, an utterly convincing argument that less harm would result from allowing Iran to develop its bomb than in either the United States or Israel or both initiating a preemptive war to prevent Iran from developing the weapon. A war under that pretense would be both contrary to international law, and worse, against the moral law. It would not achieve its stated purpose, and it would kill thousands of innocent persons.
Backtrack a few weeks. According to Time magazine, at their Washington meeting, Benjamin Netanyahu learned to trust Barack Obama, in that now Israelis are convinced Obama is serious about preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. But Peter Beinhart, former editor of the New Republic and voice of a younger generation of American Jews, concluded in Newsweek that Obama has capitulated to Israel, given up on criticizing Israel’s spreading settlements on the West Bank, and has tried to buy off Netanyahu with a promise to sell Israel bunker-busting bombs if it holds off its strike to 2013—after the elections.
The American public is undisturbed about going into a third war. In an interview on Alternet, Glenn Greenwald, a Salon.com columnist, makes the point that “Americans have this image of war being something where you send in drone planes, or even manned aircraft, over Iran and drop a few bombs and their nuclear program is destroyed.” The reality is much different. This would be a big, long, bloody war in a big country. He quotes an Israeli intelligence Mossad director stating that an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities was “the stupidest thing I have ever heard.” Listen to the interview here.
According to Pillar, there are those in the United States, many of the same persons who got us to invade Iraq under false pretenses, who “genuinely yearn for war.” And we find ourselves arguing around the “sensible” idea that “all options must be on the table” to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. “All options?” Does “all” include the U. S. and Israel dropping a series of nuclear bombs on Iran’s cities and many scattered nuclear factories to settle this question once and for all?
Among the warriors there are two schools of thought. “The simple argument is that Iranian leaders supposedly don’t think like the rest of us” they are religious fanatics who value martyrdom more than life, and cannot be counted on to act rationally.” Rick Santorum says their “theology” promotes martyrdom. (Santorum, never having had Catholic higher education, seems unaware of the “glory” of martyrdom in Christianity.) Pillar answers that Iran’s leaders have demonstrated that they want to preserve their power in this life — not the next. And more evil leaders than Iran’s—in Russia and China — have been rational enough to restrain themselves in response to deterrence diplomacy.
The “more-sophisticated sounding argument among policy-debating intelligentsia is based on a lot of untested “what-ifs” and “they could” arguments. They “could” give nukes to terrorists or sell them on the black market; but “nuclear weapons are most useful in deterring aggression against one’s own country,” it would be foolish to give or sell them to someone else. At any rate, says Pillar, “worst-case speculations are not adequate justifications for going to war.”
We foolishly imagine—as we did when we invaded Iraq—that an air bombardment is the key to victory. In fact, only a land invasion and occupation could accomplish the stated goals of the Iranian war. Get out the map of the Middle East, study the land masses of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran, and ask ourselves if we want to add a third war to the two already killing our young men and women and countless innocent civilians, as well as crippling our economy and eroding our honor.
Raymond A. Schroth, S.J.