Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Iranian Nuclear Dispute: Resolution, not Humiliation

Treatment by American writers of recent official Washington opinion about the state of Iran's nuclear development seems curious. According to the New York Times, Washington now sees Iran as having the ability to start weaponizing uranium but as voluntarily not taking that step, a situation the Times portrays as raising tensions! If the Iranians are to be accused of raising tensions and provoking Israeli militarists by choosing not to enrich uranium to weapons grade (still long technical steps away from actually building a bomb, much less one that would reliably work or be deliverable), then what does Iran have to do to signal willingness to find a mutually acceptable solution?

For the Israeli right wing and its American supporters, the answer seems to be that both the personal humiliation of Iran's leaders and the broader humiliation of the Islamic regime constitute the minimally acceptable goal.

That is a dangerous strategy, risking either war or a nationalist reaction in Iran that will only work to the benefit of Ahmadinejad and his IRGC backers. Netanyahu is fond of making comparisons between Ahmadinejad and Hitler to pressure historically-challenged Americans into coughing up more political and military support for his expansionist program, but there really is at least one valid comparison between the two...indeed, among all three. Hitler rose to power on a wave of nationalist reaction to the international humiliation inflicted on Germany after World War I, and Ahmadinejad is betting his career that he can ride the same wave in Iran.

First, a politician get voters riled up, focusing on real or imagined foreign insults. The military supports the politician because it is a good way to get a bigger budget and perhaps free arms from foreign patrons. There may or may not be any intention whatsoever of starting a war, but adversaries get nervous, and tensions rise. The more tensions rise, the more self-important (with some reason) the military feels, and the cycle continues...until one way or another, war occurs.

We have just this summer all had a taste of some of the political passions flowing through the veins of Iranians. This society of 70,000,000 has experienced extraordinary events in comparison with the calm lifestyle of Westerners. Provoking a wave of Iranian nationalist outrage would not be good for the world and would certainly not be good for the Israeli people, who number barely a tenth as many.

For those who want to resolve the nuclear dispute with Iran, humiliation is not a rational way forward.

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