Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad does not understand nuance. When he grants a "gift" to the world, he also tears off the wrapping like a wild man. Iran has enriched uranium, he said, and is a nuclear power. True or not, it doesn't matter. Nor is there any significance to the "real" timetable that will determine when Iran has nuclear weapons - a year and a half, two years or five. There's no ambiguity in Iran about the goal, even though it still claims that it isn't nuclear weaponry. Now, Ahmadinejad provocatively demands that the world's nuclear community welcome Iran to the club - or go to war against it. Thus, the Iranian president pulled himself out of the entanglement of dilemmas and placed it in the hands of the "world" - namely, the United States.
The military option may be very exciting; and in some places, there are already people stroking the buttons that launch the ICBMs - but Ahmadinejad can relax. A military assault on Iran, they worry in Washington, could instigate an Iranian double-pronged attack on Iraq - one, a missile attack against military targets, and the other, an attack by activists - terrorists or political agents - aimed at turning Iraq into adjunct Iranian territory. An attack on Iran would unite the Iranian people, including those opposed to the ayatollahs, and thus even further strengthen their regime; and the vision of regime change there would evaporate.
An attack would also portray Iran as the victim, trampled by the United States - and it's a very short hop from there to Arab solidarity with Iran, a Russian embrace, as is conventional, and the intensification of anti-U.S. sentiments not only in the Middle East. And all this even before it becomes clear which targets should be attacked and if Western intelligence is familiar with all the targets.
These dilemmas are seemingly the result of two colossal failures - the feeble international supervision, and the illusion that is being torn to shreds that the theoretical creature known as the international community can dictate a global anti-nuclear policy.
But it is too easy to blame international inspections, when politics is what decides who is truly dangerous. In Iraq, the international inspectors correctly claimed that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction. The monitoring was apparently the most effective of its kind, but nobody in Washington wanted to believe the inspectors. The war took place despite the monitoring, not because of it. North Korea has fissionable material, but - for political reasons - is not in America's firing line, while no threats of sanctions hover over Israel, India and Pakistan, which are not subject to any international inspection.
A flood of tears can be shed over international impotence. But it is a fact. Recognizing the utter uselessness of the sanctions policy, or war, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, proposed something practical - to create a bank of fissionable material that can be internationally monitored and from which "worthy" countries can withdraw what they need for peaceful purposes.
This is just one in a series of measures proposed by ElBaradei, who has publicly acknowledged that the effectiveness of international monitoring is "problematic" and that nearly any country, of any size, that wants to be a nuclear power can become one.
ElBaradei's proposal is, in effect, "anti-sanctions," and an attempt to encourage cooperation instead of threats. One can almost imagine the finger at the temple, turning in the internationally recognizable sign for a crazy idea. After all, how can one offer Iran "positive incentives" after it has already fired the opening shot in the nuclear arms race, and particularly while it is headed by a "zealous," "illogical," leader who might be crazy and uncontrolled?
The answer to this is simple: The United States has already begun negotiating with Iran about Iraq. And in doing so, appears to have already contradicted its own arguments about Iranian madness; after all, one does not discuss political matters with the insane. More importantly, if Iran is an insane state, what's the point of sanctions? However it is not semantic logic that will decide, but rather the understanding that there is nobody right now who can attack Iran, and provide reasonable solutions to the dilemmas that such an attack would awaken.
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