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Hitting The Snooze Button On The Iran Alarm

Hitting The Snooze Button On The Iran Alarm

Americans have to see us attack Iran to believe it.
By Russ Wellen

Before the election most Americans were constitutionally incapable of believing we would attack Iran. We just assumed that even an administration as obtuse as this one could see we're stretched too thin in Iraq and Afghanistan to contemplate another offensive.

Consequently, concerns that an attack would leave our troops in Iraq vulnerable to retaliation, as well as gut the economy, were nonexistent. Nor were those aware of the massive naval deployment to the Persian Gulf inclined to think it was anything more than military exercises.

Post-election, issuing clarion calls about administration intentions toward Iran seems even more alarmist. Thanks to the Democratic victory and the Iraq Study Group, Cheney's on a leash now, right?

Better to be safe than sorry. Heed Seymour Hersh and never underestimate Cheney. If anyone can extricate himself from the choke collar of legislative restrictions that block the administration from pursuing military options against Iran, he can.

Even his rumored replacement by John McCain is no indication that cooler heads will prevail. Both McCain and his possible opponent in the 2008 presidential election, Hillary Clinton, seem determined to outdo each other in their interventionist stances at a time when the nation is rediscovering its isolationist tendencies.

Nor is Clinton the only Democrat who can't be counted on to enforce congressional restrictions against a military option. After all, only 80 members of the House favor prompt withdrawal from Iraq.

But when it comes to proving you're not soft on security what's the death of tens of thousands of Iranians, not to mention the disruption of world markets?

Iran's direction is equally as difficult to discern. That's due, in part, to the structure of its executive branch, which is bi -- not polar, though some think Ahmadinejad is -- but bicameral. It differs from our legislative branch in that it's divided into the sacred and the secular: the mullah and Mahmoud.

The mullah is one of the meinis. Supreme Leader Ali Khameini succeeded the mother of all ayatollahs, Khomeini, and while almost as anti-West as Ahmadinejad, he's capable of staying the president's hand. Thank Allah for small favors.

There's yet another division in Iran's government. In his Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists piece, "Divided from Within," Paul Kerr of the Arms Control Association describes it. Authority over Iran's nuclear program had been divided between its foreign ministry and its Atomic Energy Organization. In an apparently genuine attempt to facilitate cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency in 2003, Iran consolidated authority over its program under Hassan Rowhani, the nation's head of national security.

As a result, Kerr writes, "Tehran's left hand has not always known what its right hand is doing." Rowhani admitted that reconciling the two organizations resulted in not only disharmony, but outright sabotage.

As for that most disharmonious of all convergences -- Iran and our own administration -- Tehran, according to Kerr, has two reservations. The first is that the US regards the nuclear issue as but a pretext to effect "regime change." It seems Tehran hasn't forgotten how the CIA overthrew their democratically elected prime minister, Mohammed Mossadegh, in 1953 and installed the tyrannical Shah. Talk about holding a grudge.

Second, it's been overshadowed by all that's happened since. But when the United Nations Special Commission weapons inspection team was scouring Iraq for WMD in the nineties, it was infiltrated by US intelligence, which electronically eavesdropped on Iraqi military communications. Iran fears the US would use UN inspections of its nuclear facilities to the same ends.

US spying on the UN headquarters is a time-honored tradition. (Great Britain too -- remember Kofi Annan before the Iraq invasion?) But, as surely as the short shrift we give Palestine taints our Middle-Eastern policy, heavy-handed surveillance compromises our credibility.

In the same vein, our efforts to keep nations like Iran from nuclear-weaponizing are poisoned by our insistence on keeping our own status as a nuclear power intact. In clear violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, we're not only failing to disarm, but developing new weapons.

The NPT is far from perfect. For instance, it allows signatories the rights to peaceful nuclear power, with all the attendant know-how and technology that can one day lead a nation down the primrose path to nuclear weapons. But, right now, the NPT is all we've got.

By passing the Military Commissions Act of 2006, which legitimizes forms of torture, we've abdicated our moral authority. By repealing habeas corpus, we've shaken the foundations of justice. Likewise, turning a cold shoulder to the hallowed concept of disarmament strips away whatever pretense remains of American fairness.

The cry of "It's not fair" from aspiring nuclear states may sound like whining. But it's we who infantilize them. Once a powerful nation like the United States adopts a "Because I said so" attitude, it reduces other nations to tantrums -- and the pursuit of apocalyptic weapons. Depending on your point of view, when the daddy state swats them down, it's either corporal punishment or child abuse.

Either way, our nuclear policy is hollow. If it were a leg, it would be prosthesis. Threatened, we take it off and use it as a bludgeon. Not only is our policy hollow, but then we don't have a leg to stand on.


New bio: Russ Wellen is the managing editor of and the nuclear deproliferation editor at

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