Chants of “Nuke Iran!” were heard regularly back in those
days, not just in barrooms, but even in more sober quarters. It went on
like that for more than a year, during which time we took to telling
people that our dark-haired friend with the accent was a visitor from
Turkey. That way everyone could imbibe in peace.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the current president of Iran, was a
radical student during the Islamic Revolution of 1979. I don’t know if
he ever hung out in bars in Teheran under the Shah. I gather from some
of his more foolish comments, and there are many, that for sure he did
not frequent the gay establishments.
Some accounts indicate that he may even have been in the
embassy at the time of the takeover. Even if he wasn’t there, the stunt
pulled by his fellow travelers who took over the embassy can reasonably
be given historical credit for ending the presidency of Jimmy Carter,
ushering in both the Reagan administration and Ted Koppel’s Nightline. Thanks a lot, Mahmoud.
A generation later we are once again obsessed about Iran,
and the cowboys in the White House are sounding more and more like the
barroom crazies who were recklessly clamoring for us to nuke the
Persians back into the Stone Age.
The threat is not that we will actually nuke Iran, but
that Iran, some fear, will nuke us, or nuke Israel, or both. Word from
Seymour Hersh, writing in The New Yorker, is that the Bush
administration is so worried about Iran that they have authorized as
much as $400 million for covert operations to try to overthrow the
government there. (Oops! Make that “formerly covert” ops. Thanks, Sy.)
The last time the CIA got involved in destabilizing the Iranian
government was in 1954, when we helped kick out an elected president
and install the autocratic Shah. Twenty-five years of the Shah allowed
the mullahs to build their power base until public outrage exploded and
gave birth to the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and a very nasty
So should we fear Iran? Iran acknowledges its intention
to develop nuclear power on a large scale. Such production could lead
to byproducts that will enable them to build the bomb. Nuclear power in
a sun-drenched country floating atop a sea of petroleum—ya gotta
wonder. As of yet the Iranians have no rockets that could get a bomb
across the Atlantic to do us harm, but they do have missiles capable of
serious damage in Israel, or even Europe. Additionally, they have
sought out some bomb-making technology in various nuclear ports of call.
So let’s assume the Iranians have plans that should worry
us. How should we react? From the White House we hear the same
saber-rattling, exaggerations and threats of unilateral action that
preceded the invasion of Iraq. The right in this country seems to think
you can stop nuclear proliferation by acting like Rambo, and for too
often the left acted as if just one more Jackson Browne concert could
do the trick. There’s got to be a better way.
Stopping nukes from proliferating in the Middle East has
been a bipartisan goal of our foreign policy for decades. Until the
Bush years, it was understood that stopping weapons of mass destruction
could best be accomplished through multilateral institutions and
multilateral agreements. If we have learned anything from the invasion
of Iraq, it should be that unilateral action poisons possibilities for
multilateral cooperation in the future.
The Iraq War has become so messy that we tend to forget
that the international community actually had put in place an effective
program of sanctions and inspections and prevented Saddam Hussein from
going forward with his nuclear program. The pre-war combination of
inspectors on the ground, satellites in the sky, a no-fly zone and an
embargo (leaky as it was) combined with the threat of multilateral
military action to stymie Saddam. The International Atomic Energy
Agency (IAEA) actually got it right, while the CIA and the Bush cronies
got it wrong, with disastrous consequences. We now know that Saddam had
stopped trying to make nukes, although his own warped psychological
makeup forbade him from acknowledging this publicly. (OK, so he was a
We invaded Iraq and kept the world from continuing with a
multilateral, U.N.-sanctioned plan that had demonstrated success in
keeping nukes out of the hands of a madman. Isn’t that what we are
trying to do in Iran—keep Mahmoud from getting nukes? Isn’t that what
we say we want in the case of North Korea—keep the beloved leader away
from the yellow cake?
By crying wolf and then invading Iraq we demolished the
one working mechanism the world community had developed to stop the
spread of new nukes. We are now reduced to playing Whack-a-Mole with
each new country in which the nasty bomb we created in the first place
shows up. The IAEA, not bravado, continues to be our best bet for
monitoring the Iranian situation.
Someday I’d like to see normal relations
with an Iran not run by crazies. My brother-in-law still owes me a beer
in Teheran, and at this rate my chances of cashing in any time soon are
not looking good.