Bushehr blues

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Surprise, surprise: the Russians will fuel the Iranian nuclear reactor which they have built at Bushehr, next Saturday, and it will begin the months-long process of firing up. This despite pleas from the West to stop this project; and what the Obama administration in Washington may or may not believe to have been an undertaking by the Russians to delay it—at least until Iran had come to some plausible inspection agreement on nuclear weapons.

We cannot know the extent of direct Russian collusion in the Iranian nuclear weapons program, and we cannot trust our massively incompetent intelligence agencies to find out. We do know that the technical aid from Russia goes well beyond building the reactor, and into the provision of weapons systems. We know that Iran is not concealing its commitment to build and arm missiles capable of reaching not only Israel, but India, and much of southern and eastern Europe.

And we know, or can know if we are not incurably naive, that both Russia and China consider Iran—and North Korea—to be wild-card allies in their own rivalries with the West.

It is to their advantage to keep these regimes in a state of dependency upon themselves; thus to our advantage that this tends to limit the amount of co-operation.

But the wild behaviour of both Iran and North Korea—which also, obviously, trade nuclear-related goods and services with each other, with or without Russian and Chinese consent—is entirely to the advantage of the other side. Neither of these “crazed” regimes offers, or would be so foolish as to consider, a threat to either of its big power allies. Their threats are directed entirely at democratic, pro-Western states: at South Korea and Japan, in the one case; at Israel in the other.

Now, a regime does not need to use nuclear weapons to get results from them. The mere fact they are so armed can change all the power relations in a region, just as the mere fact that a man has a loaded gun can change all the power relations within a suburban bank branch.

“But why shouldn’t he have a gun? After all, the police have guns, and they’re just people, too.” Or alternatively, “If you don’t want that man carrying a gun, then the police shouldn’t have guns, either. We must negotiate a gun-free banking environment.”

I hope my reader will find the fatuity in the above two statements. And yet the analogous positions are seriously held, even within the U.S. White House and State Department, both of which are committed to negotiating with the Russians and others for a nuke-free world.

The sane ambition is, incidentally: good guys with guns, bad guys without guns. Ditto for nuclear weapons. But this sane ambition is undermined when spokesmen for our own side cannot see the difference between a peace-loving constitutional democracy and, say, Iran and North Korea. (“After all, they’re just countries, too.”)

Indeed, the threat from Iran is slight compared with the threat to us from our own stupidity. For our lethal enemies are only doing what we have permitted them to do.

It was incumbent upon this and previous U.S. and allied administrations not only to declare that we could not abide a nuclear Iran, but also, what we’d be prepared to do about it. Moreover, a counter-threat requires the preparations to be visible: military build-up, not military climb-down.

This did not mean seeking war with the regime of the ayatollahs, let alone war with Russia. Quite the opposite: it meant preventing war, by leaving them with no room to manoeuvre—and specifically, with no opportunity to luff us into a position where we must either fight or swim. It meant, for instance, standing our ground on the anti-missile defences the U.S. was installing in Poland and Czech Republic; and refusing to forget about the Russian rape of Georgia.

Instead, when we have no reason whatever to trust the motives or behaviour of Vladimir Putin’s Russia, and plenty of evidence it had acted insincerely on previous agreements, Hillary Clinton went to Moscow with her ludicrous “reset button,” and Barack Obama followed with a new “START,” that jumbles the distinction between offensive and defensive weapons—again, just what the Russians wanted.

Likewise on Iran: the persistent and ridiculous assumption that the Russians have been acting in good faith, has left us entirely free of leverage. Instead, we are now gaping at a fait accompli.

In the end—and we are approaching the end, when Iran is established as a nuclear power, and the Israelis must make their “existential” decision on whether and how to take that threat out—we have not been rendered powerless by the enemy. We began with insuperable moral and material advantages, and we have rendered ourselves powerless by frittering them away.

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