The visits to Washington of Israeli president Shimon Peres and, a day later, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu bring the question of the Iranian nuclear program to a head at last. President Obama came into office encumbered with the sophomoric idea that he had only to advise those parts of the world that were not mainly inhabited by white people that the United States was, for the first time, not led by someone who was white and had an entirely Christian background, and, abracadabra, there would be no more problems between the United States and African and Muslim states.
As a glance at Stalin’s alliances, first with Hitler and then with Churchill and Roosevelt, or many other precedents, such as Cardinal Richelieu’s alliance with Swedish Lutheran reformationist Gustavus Adolphus during the Thirty Years’ War, would have told him, national interests are influenced by geography, geopolitical power, and ambition, and national interests determine inter-state relations.
Of course, religion, ethnicity, and ideology are sometimes invoked as sources of accord or of grievances, but they are usually pretextual. Russia claimed, before World War I, to be the champion of pan-Slavism, but this was just to discomfort the rival Habsburg Empire and to try to extend its own empire to the Mediterranean. From Peter the Great’s time to Brezhnev’s, Russia was trying to break out into the West (and much of the cranky and mischievous introversion of Putin’s Russia is a reaction to its catastrophic ultimate failure to do so).
Most of the problems in Ireland and Lebanon were not so much religious in a dogmatic sense as caused by religious minorities’ having a purportedly unjust preponderance of economic and political influence in a mixed jurisdiction. Turkey has been almost as shameless in shifting in recent years from sponsorship of the Syrian Assad regime to unconvincing animosity because of Alawite oppression of Syria’s Sunni majority (which is not a new phenomenon).
Mr. Obama, after his effort to pretend that the Bush-Sharon agreement on settlements didn’t bind anyone was shot to pieces, acknowledged that Middle East peace was less easily attainable than he had expected, as if the eleven presidents who preceded him at it were amateurs. Iran is a terrorism-supporting state, both directly and through Hamas and Hezbollah. It is also a trouble-making state invoking spurious Shiite solidarity to try to overthrow the ruling family in Bahrain and foment discord in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Its pursuit of a nuclear military capacity has had two purposes: to put such weapons in the hands of a more distinguished civilization and politically coherent Muslim country than Pakistan, the incumbent bearer of the Islamic nuclear scepter, and to rub America’s nose in the hypocrisy of the arms-control regime. This is particularly tempting as Obama is the only president apart from Eisenhower (Atoms for Peace) and, in his eccentric way (SDI), Reagan, to pay any attention to nuclear disarmament.
The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is based on the fraud that the nuclear powers don’t really want to continue in that role and are conscientiously working toward the abolition of those weapons, and the forfeiture of the prestige and deference they enjoy as a result of the shared nuclear monopoly. The Treaty pledges them to work toward that end, but the commitment has not been taken seriously, especially not by the countries bound by it.
The United States could not prevent the Soviet Union from becoming a nuclear power, other than by acts of atomic war that would not have been supported by international law or American or world opinion. There was no plausible reason for America to try to block its British and French allies from achieving that status. And there was no stomach by any of the incumbents to try to stop China, India, or Pakistan, though the Clinton administration half-heartedly imposed sanctions on India and Pakistan. This left the West, which had already incurred the enmity of Iran and Iraq, with the remarkable strategic feat of having alienated everyone between the king of Jordan and the king of Thailand, a vast span of the Near Eastern and South Asian land mass.
The United States tacitly protected Israel’s right to nuclear weapons. And since South Africa, like Israel, could be relied on to use the weapons only in a desperate struggle for self-preservation against encircling racial majorities in an out-of-the-way corner of the world (though, in its case, such a war would be in support of an evil and repulsive racist political system), it wasn’t propitious to intervene there either. American-led deterrence may be considered to have been essential in persuading Libya to abandon its nuclear program. And, of course, an American-led coalition did intervene to prevent what proved to be the false alarm of Iraqi nuclear military capability from being realized under Saddam Hussein, after Israel had destroyed his original effort by bombing the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak in 1981.
The current theocratic regime riveted on Iran is proclaiming the peaceful nature of its program, while winking at the Muslim world to the east and west of it that it will arm militant Islam, and while loudly promising, with virtually every hazzan from every minaret, that it will exterminate Israel. The International Atomic Energy Agency, which was correctly unconvinced about Iraq, and was slow to chide over Iran (while its former head, Mohamed ElBaradei, fancied that he was running for the presidency of Egypt), is emphatic about Iran’s violations of its treaty obligations.