At the crossroads the Middle East is approaching — in the Iranian nuclear program, the Afghan War, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the internal political evolution in Pakistan, Iraq, and Turkey — there is a confusing glimpse of what the world’s most turbulent region looks like as American influence conducts an orderly retreat. All present indications are that the Obama administration is not prepared to interdict militarily the Iranian acquisition of a deliverable nuclear military capability, and also lacks the political muscle or ingenuity to persuade the necessary powers of the virtues of what Secretary Clinton boldly described in more purposeful recent times as “crippling sanctions.”
President Obama has muddied the waters with a lot of hopeful but rather vapid talk of nuclear disarmament, which the Russians are prepared to join in as long as it reduces American nuclear superiority, but not further; and to which no other present or imminent nuclear power will accord the slightest credence. Since not even this administration has so far succumbed to the lunacy of unilateral disarmament, and the Russians are unlikely to take this down another notch and leave themselves unnecessarily vulnerable to the antics of the Chinese, this train to nowhere has probably reached its destination already.
The effort to arm the friendly Middle Eastern countries, especially Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states and Emirates, with intermediate missile defenses (THAAD) is a sensible step. But to the extent that the administration thinks that it will be an adequate balm to the host countries’ concerns about nuclear-warhead-equipped ayatollahs in Tehran, it is another dangerous fantasy. In one sense, the world can be grateful to Ahmadinejad and Khamenei for lifting the rock on the farce of nuclear-arms control. It has been a club that anyone could join without more than gentle rifting in the club lounge, as long as they appeared to be unlikely to start pitching such weapons around indiscriminately. Despite the claims of Mao Tse-tung that China could endure a nuclear exchange and the deaths of hundreds of millions of people, the more blood-curdling noises of some of the cavalcade of disconcerting ephemeral chiefs in Islamabad, and the reactionary aberrance of the descendants of the Trekboers in apartheid Pretoria, all these countries were almost uncomplainingly allowed in. The Clinton administration’s madcap sanctions against India and Pakistan illustrated the feebleness of club disapproval while making America’s strategic position in South Asia completely unsustainable.
Now that a country whose leadership speaks glibly of a love of death and of its intention to obliterate Israel is thrusting into the club, to the apparent indifference of most of the neighboring countries that have the most at risk from such a move (i.e., Russia, China, and India), all doors and windows will be open. The world will then move quickly, probably within 20 years, to a security system based on universal assured destruction. Fifty or more countries will join the nuclear club, on the understanding that a few countries will possess a semi-viable anti-missile defense and all the others will be destroyed completely if they attack another nuclear power. The Armageddon feared by the original nuclear scientific community will be at hand. And there will certainly be nuclear attacks and counterattacks, and eventually almost routine massacres of millions of people.