Friday, August 14, 2009

Gates in Israel: Destabilizing Remarks

The more loudly American officials cry that the sky is falling because of the Iranian nuclear program, the more unstable the Mideast will become.

On July 27, during his recent trip to Israel, Defense Secretary Gates stated in a news conference:

there's no question that as Minister Barak said a nuclear-armed Iran would be profoundly destabilizing to the entire region and a threat to, certainly, to Israel and a threat to the United States and other states as well.

What are our leaders thinking when they speak in public?

It is hardly necessary for an official to understand complexity theory in order to see that one should never use an absolute phrase such as "there's no question" in reference to something as complicated as the process of destabilizing a region.

Would unprovoked nuclear aggression against Iran destablize the region? Does the further arming of nuclear Israel destabilize the region?

Gates is no chicken-hawk, neo-con servant of Israel. He was a CIA Russian analyst during the Cold War - remember, the half-century of stability resulting from a nuclear balance? I know, ancient history. But even if you have forgotten, Gates cannot have. Nuclear weapons can, handled with diplomatic expertise, be a stabilizing factor.

But suppose one wanted to destabilize the Mideast? What would help to turn the now anticipated Iranian entry into the nuclear club into a "profoundly destabilizing" event? Simple:

Scare everyone into believing that it would be the end of the world.

Scaremongering raises the likelihood of war over the short term by empowering Israeli warmongers (there may only be a handful, but they run all the major Israeli political parties).

Scaremongering also raises the likelihood of war over the long term by fairly inviting Saudis and Egyptians and Turks to cozy up to the world's first nuclear state in hopes of getting, if not an actual bomb, then at least some more of that technical assistance Pakistan was allegedly so generously passing around a few years ago (see Deception by Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark for 449 pages of allegations and 83 pages of notes).

Finally, scaremongering encourages Iranians who see nuclear arms as the route to international prestige and respect. The absence of a serious, well-thought-out U.S. policy for persuading Iran to abandon the pursuit of nuclear arms only makes the American "sky is falling" screams all the more enticing to that group. One can just hear hardliners in the Iranian national security apparatus sneering at their more moderate colleagues, "You see! All we have to do is make the world think we might have one single little bomb, and everyone will be afraid of us. In fact, they already are!"

An Iran armed with nuclear-tipped missiles (very much more remote than the day Iran cobbles together its first untested bomb) might destabilize the Mideast, though that outcome is not automatic. Nuclear arms in South Asia certainly did destabilize that region, at least to the degree that India and Pakistan almost went to (nuclear) war. And the Cold War was nothing sane humans would ever want to live through again (yeah, yeah, I'm old enough to remember).

On the other hand, it might sober up risk-prone officials in both Iran and Israel. It might also persuade the U.S. to treat Iran with respect (you can tell when a state treats another state with respect: it negotiates to cut a deal rather than threatening, demanding, and issuing ultimatums with time limits).

The bottom line is that no one knows what the impact of nuclear arms in Iran might be. But the impact of screams about the sky falling by American officials seems fairly clear: it makes more likely the profound destabilization of the Mideast.

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