During a Senate hearing last week on the situation in Syria, Sen. Bob Corker gets his turn to question witnesses, and does he start with questions, or make a statement about Syria? No. He instead says he can’t understand why that hearing isn’t about Iran. Why isn’t there a hearing about Iran every week he asked. Sure, forget the country with actual it’s-already-happening crisis. We’ve got Iran to bomb!
Though we don’t need a C-SPAN addiction to get an idea of why Iran might think having a bomb of its own is a good idea. Look at this map, paying particular attention not to Iran, but to the countries around it. If the reason it would be reasonable for Iran to be enriching weapons-grade uranium as quickly as possible isn’t obvious, I’ll elaborate after the jump. Click the map to enlarge.
Keeping in mind the open threats to attack Iran coming from American conservatives, look at Iran’s northeastern border and notice Afghanistan, with something like 80,000 American troops. Iraq just has some thousands of state department staff and private security contractors to guard them, probably only slightly worrying, but across Basra in Kuwait, a bunch of US bases. Across the Persian Gulf in Bahrain, a US base. Across the Persian Gulf in Qatar, another US base. Across the Southeastern border with Pakistan, some unknown number of secret US bases. On the Northwest border is Turkey, which has several — I hope you know where I’m going — US bases. Think Iran might feel we have them surrounded?
We’re not the only nuclear nation threatening to bomb Iran. A couple countries away to the West is Israel, which seems to be wavering between waiting for US permission to launch an attack and just attacking without permission. If you’re Iran though, that’s not all the nukes you’re staring at.
Pakistan doesn’t just have some unknown number of Americans, but it has bombs of its own. It also has an unstable government, and Sunni extremists who not only might someday take over the government, but also have a hobby of attacking Pakistan’s Shiite minority. If you’re a neighboring Shiite majority country, does that make you nervous?
Though US troops withdrew from Iraq, Iraq is still there along with the long hostility between Iranians and Arabs. Across the Persian Gulf is the Arabian Peninsula with a bunch of Arab nations hostile to Iran. Iran is bigger than any of them, but bigger than all of them put together? At the other end of the Caspian Sea is nuclear Russia, not particularly hostile now, but historically, the Soviet Union and the Russian Empire looked at Iran as this place getting in the way of their warm water port. The countries in between, though no longer part of the Soviet Union or Russian Empire, are still referred to by Russia as “the near abroad”. Major power with nukes looks at your border as their sphere of influence — feeling nervous yet?
If you’re Iran, you’re looking at that map and noticing you have a problem with everybody bordering or close, plus two nuclear nations openly threatening to bomb you. Why would you not want a bomb?
Not that there aren’t reasons to oppose getting your own bombs, like proving the warmongers are right in what they say about you, and scaring someone else enough to turn you into an atomic target. Developing a bomb could bring on severe economic sanctions and the regime does want to stay in power. Are those enough reasons to override what that map is telling you?
I don’t know. I do know that the map and the problems over the border don’t change if we imagine a different regime. Even if the Iranian regime ceased to be theocratic, even if stopped being Muslim, imagining that only the non-Muslim minority got to participate in government and they chose the build the most American-style secular democracy imaginable, the threats mostly remain. Maybe the Iranian-Israeli threat-down stops, maybe American conservatives get over their hysteria — maybe. Or maybe Iran remembers that the last time they had a democracy, the US government overthrew it. Everywhere else in the neighborhood — nothing changes.
What that tells me is even if the government changed, Iran would still be thinking about getting its own bomb. The incentive provided from the proximity and hostility of nuclear nations won’t have gone away. The threat from more numerous Sunnis won’t have gone away, nor the hostility of the more wealthy Arab nations across the Gulf. In other words, changing the Iranian government won’t change geography.
I imagine the conservative response would be that without the theocracy, Israel and America wouldn’t be thinking about attacking, so therefore the “any government would want a bomb” argument doesn’t hold. Fine. Let’s pretend Israel and America go away. You’re the Iranian government, as secular and democratic and peace-loving as you like. You don’t look at Russia and Pakistan, especially Pakistan, and still think having your own deterrent might be a good idea?
If that’s so, then even invading Iran and imposing a new government, whatever it’s form, will only delay the building of an Iranian bomb, because no imposed changes are going to change geography. The only way to stop a bomb being built, if any Iranian government would trust us that much, is to put Iran under the US nuclear umbrella. That means we promise to treat a nuclear attack on Iran like an attack on us and retaliate.
Skeptical that could happen? Me too.