Monday, September 04, 2006

"[A]ll holes and no carpet"

[Posted by reader_iam]

A Times of London writer presents a case as to why the failure to stop Iran's nuclear aspirations is so dangerous (do, do read the whole thing):

Iran is a special case because, first, it is already an established menace. It has spent the past two decades consistently seeking to sabotage any prospect of a permanent peace settlement between Israel and its neighbours and it remains dedicated to that mission. It continues to sponsor extremist fanatics in the Palestinian Authority and Lebanon. It is behind much of the trouble that has tortured Iraq and it does not intend to stop pulling these strings once US and British troops have left. If it becomes a nuclear nation, it is likely to be emboldened in these deeds.

Iran is also distinct because this project is not merely about national symbolism, but also religious aspirations. It would not be an “Islamic” bomb but a “Shia Islamic” bomb, the most potent physical representation so far of a drive to seize command over a faith that was briefly, if tenuously, held and then lost in the 7th century. It would be in the hands of people whose interpretation of theology places a weight and value on the concept of martyrdom that the rest of us properly find alien, bizarre and chilling.

That " 'Shia Islamic' bomb" phrase touches upon a critical point, in my estimation, and not just because of the reality described in the final sentence of this paragraph. It also, for me, points to a fundamental difference between how and why Iran might employ a nuclear bomb and how and why the U.S. deployed them in Japan during WWII (which is where, I think, the use of that analogy breaks down). The desire for a borderless, international caliphate inherently nurtures a certain enthusiasm that potentially trumps the reluctance of a West still largely driven--some of the Bush administration's rhetoric notwithstanding--more by realism and pragmatism than true idealism, much less True Belief.

(Keep in mind that it's important to separate the current rulers of Iran and its people, who are a far more nuanced bunch, as so eloquently pointed out in this post, An Iran Perspective.)
Sunni nations, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, would, rightly, be aghast at, and uncomfortable with, the notion that they have to rely on Israel as their de facto nuclear deterrent. The incentives for them, too, to pursue nuclear status would be overwhelming. Indeed, to put it bluntly, if Tehran obtains nuclear standing, then tacitly encouraging Cairo and Riyadh to travel down the same path may be the least bad outcome for outsiders to fall back on.

Let that one sink in, just for a moment or two. Why isn't this more obvious to people, more publicly discussed, along with the implications?
An Iranian nuclear capacity would, finally, make a mockery of the United Nations. It would be seen as confirmation that the phrase “Security Council ultimatum” is close to a contradiction in terms. I am not a huge fan of this organisation, but it undoubtedly has its merits. It will be seen as having huffed and puffed on Iran and blown nothing down. Other rogue states will observe these events and reach their own, rational, conclusions. What passes for international order will be deeply undermined by this imminent debacle.

Well, that's an old story, and I'm well aware that the views of rational people differ, in parts if not wholesale.

The Times piece starts out in this manner:
PERSIAN PROVERBS have a particularly poetic quality to them. Among my personal favourites are: “The wise man sits on the hole in his carpet”; “You can’t pick up two melons with one hand”; and “When fortune turns against you, even jelly breaks your teeth.” Profound.

Another local maxim appears to capture the outside world’s response to Iran’s nuclear ambitions. It is akin to an ancient remark: “A gentle hand may lead an elephant by a hair.” For that is clearly the approach that Kofi Annan, on behalf of the United Nations, and Javier Solana, for the European Union, are adopting. Mr Annan was in Tehran this weekend to meet with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the firebrand Iranian President, and ask him politely if he would mind suspending the enrichment of uranium as the UN Security Council has demanded. Señor Solana is due to see Ali Larijana, nominally Iran’s chief negotiator on these issues, this week to explore once again whether formal negotiations can start on a new package of “economic and other incentives” that might allow Iran to do what UN Resolution 1696 has sought under the threat of sanctions.

Not that this measure was especially intimidating. The most that the permanent members of the Security Council were poised to agree on at this stage was a travel ban on senior Iranian leaders and a partial freeze on selected assets held abroad. Unless Mr Ahmadinejad ached to visit Disneyland Paris, he was hardly likely to be troubled by this possibility.

Well, be that last thought as it may, this whole passage put me in mind of these three posts on Claudia Rosett's new blog, The Rosett Report, the blog of she who did so much--and mostly single-handedly, for a shamefully long time--to expose the oil-for-food scandals. Although I haven't always agreed with her editorial positions, that she is a fine, fine reporter cannot be denied (and certainly not by me, who's followed and admired her work for many, many, many years). From the second Rosett Report link that I provided:
... [Annan] has announced that his talks with Iranian officials so far have been “very good and constructive”

Where have we heard that before? Recall Annan’s February, 1998 dash to Baghdad, whence he returned to tell the press: “Can I trust Saddam Hussein? I think I can do business with him.”

In that case, Annan’s triumph was supposed to be that he had persuaded UN-sanctioned Saddam to let UN weapons inspectors stay in Iraq. That worked for all of about nine months, at the end of which Saddam in December, 1998 kicked out the weapons inspectors for four solid years — during which Saddam’s regime with the knowledge and complicity of the UN scammed and smuggled for itself close to $17 billion meant for Iraqi relief under the UN’s Oil-for-Food program (which was the main vehicle for Saddam under UN sanctions to rack up at least $21 billion in illicit revenues). Annan’s Secretariat collected close to $1.9 billion in commissions for administering this world-record scam — including $500 million for weapons inspections, even though from late 1998 until late 2002 there were no weapons inspections.

Follow the link for the kicker.

Why do so many put so much faith in the U.N.? Is it that the alternatives are too tough to face? The responsibilities too great? The mental shifts too painful for all but the most clear-eyed and mentally courageous among us?

I mean, I honestly don't get how much hope and trust is put into that organization, given its track record over so many years in so many areas--and I say this as someone who was not born a U.N. cynic (quite the contrary, in my younger years), but rather was made one, and rather reluctantly, at that. It seems to me that a simple look at a broad set of headlines on any given day--this one, for example--suggests ample reason for skepticism and, by extension, militates against faith in idealistic visions and utopic dreams. (And not just with regard to the U.N., either, but also with respect to a broader mindset.)

Are we really "all holes and no carpet"? Sounds like a damned hard, cold place to be perching, from where I sit.