Part I is here.
Earlier this week, Jeff Goldberg of The Atlantic wrote an extensive piece about US and Israeli decision factors for a strike on Iran’s nuclear program. I wanted to post a piece of my own in response to it, but found myself stumped as to how to say anything fresh on the topic. It seemed that the most efficient approach would be to link to the number of pieces I’ve written before, which have treated all the points raised by Goldberg’s very comprehensive summary. Yes, Israel’s is a one-shot option. Yes, the Israelis would have to prioritize and hit far fewer targets than an American force could. Yes, Iran will have Hezbollah attack Israel from the north and Hamas from the south. Yes, the Iranian regional backlash will be hard to contain. Yes, these things are all dangerous to mess with and hard to predict, even though the Arab nations don’t want to be under nuclear-armed Iranian hegemony either, and would be allies of convenience for Israel – for a few hours, at least – in a pinch.
Caroline Glick this week makes a profound point that I made here last year: that a nuclear-armed Iran can and will squeeze the US out of the Middle East. She is right. An Iran empowered with a nuclear arsenal will upend the status quo irreversibly. Nuclear power deters us a lot better than it deters autocratic predators, and everyone knows that. Our nuclear power didn’t deter the Soviet Union from waging proxy wars abroad, but the Soviets’ nuclear power deterred us from fighting back in those wars with the goal of actually winning. It was the Soviet nuclear arsenal that enabled the USSR to set expanding lines of confrontation and have them respected by the West.
And the point, for those who found themselves on the Soviet-influenced side of the line, was not that nukes were never used against the United States, it was that they themselves were subject to brutal totalitarian rule. A nuclear arsenal empowered the Soviets to make it seem too costly to the US to guard the freedom of vulnerable peoples. We constrained ourselves instead merely to fight – and only sometimes; not always – in bloody and protracted symmetrical conflicts, and on their territory.
That, right there, is exactly what Iran intends to achieve with a nuclear arsenal: the hobbling of American will and options. The mullahs don’t want to attack their neighbors with nukes, they want to make us pull our punches and then leave the region entirely. They will do that by harassing the neighbors who host us, with terrorism and insurrection, while carrying in the background the threat of nuclear retaliation. Ultimately, in a US-free Middle East, cowed neighbors who do Iran’s bidding will function to isolate Israel.
Of course, this vision would be achieved only through time, lurches, and false starts. The Arab nations won’t just sit still for it. They will try to realign, defend themselves, and wrest regional leadership from Tehran. Saudi Arabia doesn’t have the population to make herself a serious rival to Iran, but Egypt does. Egypt is a prize that Iran is trying to leverage today, but I predict the Muslim Brotherhood and its various Salafist tentacles will confront Iran’s proxies there in the very near future.
And that point expands outward to become the most important of all, which is that an Iran mobilized and empowered, and unchecked by the United States, will force on the whole Eastern hemisphere confrontations and decision points that are only latent today. Caroline Glick focuses, quite naturally, on the fate of Israel under these conditions – and Americans, as Israel’s allies, must do so as well.
Continued in Part III…
Cross-posted at Hot Air.