The Corner

The Libya War: What Is Iran Learning?

My default position on U.S. military interventions in the name of human rights is to support them. I recognize that, in the case of Libya, serious questions have been raised as to whether our intervention — and even outright regime change — would improve, or end up harming, the human-rights situation in Libya. I have nothing to add to that debate. But there is an interesting question posed over on Daily Kos about one possible unintended consequence of our effort in Libya:

I’m sure the government of Iran must be watching the events in Libya with particular interest. In December of 2003, Libya announced it had a nuclear weapons program and that it would get rid of it. The last of the nuclear weapons technology exited the country in 2009. Libya’s repressive, dictatorial regime was welcomed back into the fold of the great Western powers and their friends (a.k.a., the “international community”) and trade flourished. Now, just over seven years later, Libya is under military assault from those same powers, only now without the nuclear threat that keeps the West out of North Korea. For the power centers in Iran this must be particularly instructive.

If I understand the author correctly, the implication — or at least the strong suggestion — is that “Hands off Libya” is a wiser policy. But I see another lesson here: It is in the urgent interest of world peace, and of the Iranian people themselves, that the regime there be prevented from nuclearizing. If we permit the regime to protect itself with nuclear weapons, it will only become more entrenched, and inflict suffering on its people with impunity: Qaddafi, writ large.

People — some of them too young to remember the Cold War — console us with the fact that, in the case of the Soviet Union, containment, in the end, worked. But I lived through much of that period and remember it, and I’m not eager to pay the price that containment exacted: a massive U.S. spending on defense to ensure our bare national survival against a nuclear-armed enemy, not to mention the sufferings of the millions of people condemned to live under Communist tyranny for decades. I’d really rather not go through all of that misery, that staggering waste of human resources, again. If we accept Iran’s nuclearization as a fait accompli, we — and the Iranians — will end up paying for it dearly.

I can already hear the response: What a great idea, Mike! We’re stuck in two endless wars, we’ve just begun a third, and your knee-jerk response is to start wishing for a fourth! I hear ya. But I just think we need to remember that the decision to kick the can down the road is not cost-free.


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