In addition to its fascinating cover piece on the art crisis, the current issue of TNR has a superb piece called “Contra Iran,” by Yossi Klein Halevi and Michael B. Oren.
Certainly it makes perfect sense for the Israelis to treat Iran as the ultimate existential threat. We really are talking about the prospect of a second Holocaust here. Yet it’s well to remember that Hitler had a lot more in mind than just getting rid of the Jews. There was also that world domination thing. That’s why I think it’s important not to treat the Iran question as if it’s merely a matter of Israel. Here, for example, is what Halevi and Oren have to say about matters beyond Israel:
A nuclear Iran will have devastating consequences for Sunni Arab states, too. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, and, most recently, Jordan have declared their interest in acquiring nuclear power; Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has stated explicitly that Egypt may feel the need to protect itself against Iran’s nuclear threat. Other Sunni nations could follow–including Libya, whose enmity toward the Saudis may draw it back into the nuclear race if Riyadh tries to acquire a bomb. A nuclear free-for-all, then, is likely to seize the Middle East. In this crisis-ridden region, any flashpoint will become a potential nuclear flashpoint.
The reverberations of a nuclear Iran will reach far beyond the Middle East. Tehran could dictate the price of oil and even control much of its supply through the Straits of Hermuz. And Iran will be able to conduct terrorist operations through its proxies with greater immunity. Even without the nuclear threat, Iran succeeded in intimidating the Saudis into releasing Iranian suspects in the 1997 Khobar Towers bombing. Moreover, if Tehran goes nuclear, the pretense of an international community capable of enforcing world order would quickly unravel: After all, if a regime that has perpetrated terrorist attacks from Argentina to the Persian Gulf can flout sanctions and acquire nuclear weapons, how can the United Nations credibly stop anyone else from doing the same?
We could and should be writing long essays elaborating on these points. Instead, America seems politically paralyzed by the war in Iraq. The presidential candidates are reluctant to talk about Iraq, and when the exception, McCain, does, he is lauded for his courage and/or cited for foolishness. Conservatives know that Iran is a problem, but can’t bring themselves to push for tough action, because they can just hear the screams and yells from MSM and the left. The Democrats, on the other hand, are timid in their dovishness, even in the midst of Republican woe, because they realize that an emboldened Iran really could be a disaster, and they don’t want to be blamed for retreat.
In short, we’re afraid to talk about Iran because of Iraq, and afraid to talk about Iraq because of Iran. Everyone knows that Iran is a problem, but no one wants to do anything about it because whatever they do, the other side will object. We are, again, in a state of national political paralysis on Iran. The Israelis see things clearly, because their lives are immediately and directly at stake. We, on the other hand, see things dimly, yet the conditions of our existence are threatened no less surely, if only a bit less directly, than the Israelis. Meanwhile, the chess game goes on….