Thursday, January 20, 2005


Does anybody think any U.S. administration isn't spying on Iranian nukes? Does anybody hope we're not? And did anybody read Seymour Hersh's recent article and say, "Gee, I had no idea the U.S. would have a contingency plan for taking out Iranian nuclear weapons. I never would have dreamed that the U.S. simply wouldn't allow Iran to get all the radiation bombs it wants, and use them as it pleases. How awful!"

Well, if there is such a "somebody," he probably lives in Europe.

A two-pronged approach to Iran could be effective, if the U.S. and Europe can cooperate long enough to work it. But the Anglo-Franco-German diplomatic approach will work only because there's a serious U.S. threat lurking on the other side of the room. Otherwise, it's all carrot and no stick.

I don't relish my nation in the bad cop role. But I do like the idea that the rulers of Syria and Iran, and the Glorious Leader of North Korea, awake in a cold sweat at midnight, with nightmares of the U.S. military.

My European friend, however, disagrees.

"I consider scaring people (regimes etc) both a fairly useless and a dangerous thing. Applying pressure, that's a different thing. That is something with clear aims and best done within some kind of framework constructed. There will be rules and procedures and the players will be able to judge the situation and the positions and act accordingly."

But it doesn't work that way. To be effective, the "bad cop" in the play has to create, in the mind of his suspect, the idea that anything might happen. That anything can happen. He's outside the framework. It's the impression that's effective, of course, not the fact of going completely apeshit on somebody. Fear of violence can be an effective tool. Violence is a crappy choice you make when the alternatives all are worse.

"I can see no effort [by the U.S.] at dealing with the distrust and insecurity they are sowing." And again: It is the USA who is polarizing things so much. Who brings in a major destabilizing element.

He tells me that, if we soften our tough-guy posture toward Iran, their leaders will stop chanting "Death to America." Somehow I should accept that the mullahs -- with a restless young population, high unemployment, economic stagnation -- would give up blaming everything on America when even Europe hasn't given that up.

Sometimes he writes as though he thinks everyone loved America before we made the mistake of electing that awful George Bush. But he has written, at other times, that we're just always going to be hated, because we're the world's empire du jour, the biggest and generally most successful military and cultural force on the planet. Which I think is more accurate.

Europeans complain loud and long that George W. Bush just isn't a diplomat. They say he doesn't say the right things. And even when he does say them, he manages to say them in an offensive way. He just doesn't pay enough attention to the forms of diplomacy to suit Europeans.

I have just three words to say to that:


Heard that before? When the Iranian parliament went into session for the year on May 28, all the delegates got up and chanted that, chanted it in unison, hard-liners and reformers alike.

"Death to America." That chant has been heard since 1979. And it's been acted out often in that interval.

The election in Iran was highly fractious. The hard-liners manipulated the process to marginalize the reformers. As soon as the gavel came down, independents and the hard-liners started squabbling.

"To cool down the atmosphere, some deputies proposed anti-American slogans be shouted loudly. His suggestion was immediately welcomed with a big 'death to America' from the audience."

Just think about that. They can't agree on anything else, but to restore unity, they reach out for the one thing they have in common:


Some groups, when they want to establish collective harmony, sing "Kum-ba-ya." Now, if you don't like Mr. Bush's rhetoric -- after all, he slipped up once and used the awful word "crusade" -- think how you would feel if every day the U.S. Congress opened its sessions with mass chants of "Death to France!" Democrats and Republicans shouting themselves hoarse with equal enthusiasm.

I've come to realize that many Europeans think it would be a good thing if Iran got a nuclear arsenal, because, as my friend puts it, "Israel wouldn't be happy to have to deal with Iran on equal terms, but frankly this might even benefit the region." He thinks it would make the Mideast, and the world, more stable.

It will force everybody to the tables. They won't have any other chance than to find a modus vivendi.

News flash: Iran doesn't want Israel at the table. It wants Israel buried 6 feet under the soil, in an unmarked grave.

Here are three more words:


Have you ever heard of "Jerusalem Day?" Every year Iran celebrates Jerusalem Day on the last day of Ramadan. Top officials in Teheran officiate in a "holiday" whose main themes are "the annihilation of Israel, increasing the aid for the violent Palestinian armed insurrection, total rejection of any political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and provoking hatred for the United States."

If the polls are to be believed, Germans, along with most Western Europeans, consider the United States and Israel a greater threat to world peace than Iran or North Korea. I suspect the dirty secret is, many people in Europe, including many in power, don't think it's a tragedy if Iran gets the bomb. In fact, Europe rather likes the idea.


That way Iran can wipe the grin off Sharon's face. Europe would like that, yeah!

And we're trusting them to negotiate with the mullahs?


I asked my European friend, "If there was no U.S. in the world, would Iran still be trying to get the bomb?"

Sure it would. It might even have it already. At the same time Iran would be a lot less of a danger to the world than it is now.

I told him, "I doubt Israel would agree with that. I doubt Iraq would, either."

But he says Iran has a right to be afraid of Iraq, because Iraq has attacked it in the past, and of Israel because "Israel is a country that insists on semi-secretely owning nuclear weapons, without becoming party to international treaties and agreements."

Israel has nukes, that's an open secret. Do Europeans really fret over that? Do they think Israel's going to lob one into Damascus someday, just for the hell of it? Do they not think, as I do, that Israel wants this ultimate deterrent because they live in a, what is it?, 19-mile wide strip of hillside beset by enemies on all sides who perpetually vow to drive Israel into the sea and kill or enslave all the Jews?

We're talking about the ultimate weapons here. Better off if they never existed, but they do. The genie doesn't go back in the bottle. Yet there seems to be a view at work in Europe that regards possession of nukes as a natural right, at least of every nation that claims to feel threatened by Uncle Sam.

Seriously, now, isn't that like arguing that all your neighbors have a right to own automatic sub-machine guns? Doesn't matter if they're decent folk or hallucinating drug addicts or hardened criminals or decent folk who have the bad habit of leaving their doors unlocked and getting robbed by psychopaths.

Even in the U.S., where gun ownership is a constitutional right (and the Europeans think we're dingbats for that), not everyone can own one. Hell, you can't even drive a car without taking a test and getting an official certification that you know how to drive a car. But they seem to seriously want to hand out nukes to everyone who's afraid of Israel.

If I have to, I can accept these ultimate weapons in the hands of the Soviet Union, the U.S., Britain, India, modern China, France: more or less stable, conservative, secular, self-interested states. The dreadful balance of power implied in "mutually assured destruction" was sufficient to restrain the Cold War powers when simple human sanity was not. Even without the threat of retaliation, they operate with sufficient restraint. In 1982, a nuclear power, Great Britain, went to war. Nobody worried that Thatcher would nuke Buenos Aires.

But we're talking about Iran. We're talking about a nation whose leadership class considers suicide attacks not just an acceptable tactic but a religious duty. A country whose quasi-independent military openly recruits its citizens to be car-bombers to kill foreign construction workers building sewage plants in Iraq, or blow up Israeli buses full of school children.

Who is America to decide who can have nukes and who can't? Nobody -- and everybody. I have no problem living in a world where the grown-ups decide who gets to have nuclear weapons and who doesn't.

And if much of Old Europe chooses a slow suicide by uberfremdung, by indifference to its children, by blind trusting pacifism in a jungle-world, then I am not interested in having that part of the world make the safety choices for the rest of us.

We do not accept an Iran armed with nuclear weapons. We prefer to resolve that situation by diplomacy. But we're not limited to that approach. Keeping the most harsh military options on the table, as the U.S. administration has done, gives us the maximum possible degree of flexibility.

My friend accuses us of not worrying at all about Pakistan having nuclear weapons and spreading technology, but being mortally terrified by the prospect of Iran aquiring nuclear technology.

I do worry about Pakistan, though. Pakistan is a difficult and disturbing case. In the most practical terms, we need Musharraf, even if we don't like him. In the most realpolitik terms, the shady characters who run that country now, and who know they're raw meat without us, are probably the better alternative -- for America and for the world -- to what would rise up to run it if they were overthrown. But I don't like this arrangement at all, and I think they're playing us, especially about bin Laden.

But I'd rather have just Pakistan to worry about. Not Pakistan + Iran.

On the other hand, I think Germany should get nukes. Why not? They're a restrained and stable democracy. We should give them some (hell we gots extra), for next Christmas. Wrap them up with bows and leave them at a military base, with instructions and a gift-card. It would force the Germans to think seriously about things like power, war, deterence, defense. I'm sure France would welcome this in the proper E.U. spirit.