Friday, February 1, 2008

Revenge Of The Crazies

This backgrounder from The Economist is about as cogent a presentation of where things stand in the Iran nuclear crisis as I've read so far. They reference all the significant developments, both foreign and domestic, to illustrate why anyone who takes the threat of the Iranian program seriously should be very, very discouraged right now.

Last week it seemed like a third round of UN sanctions might happen in spite of the NIE, but already there are signs (this time from South Africa, which holds a non-permanent seat on the Security Council) that international opinion is far from galvanized on the urgency of the measures. Even a watered-down third round would be significant, because it would offer multi-lateral cover for more unilateral American or EU sanctions that might pressure Iran to take a more flexible negotiating position.

But the fact is that there aren't that many promising options left. Iran has a number of pots on the nuclear stove -- mastering the nuclear fuel cycle, experimental labs that the IAEA has yet to inspect, a heavy-water reactor under construction -- all of which could eventually be plugged into a jumpstarted weapons component that has been frozen but not dismantled.

Of course, none of that would happen overnight, and it's not certain that any of it would actually happen at all. But anyone who has taken a close look at this issue and read the NIE carefully has to concede that it's possible. And even if it's true that a nuclear Iran could be deterred, that's still a huge existential burden to place on an already volatile region. It's also an assumption based on a binary theory of deterrence. If the entire region goes nuclear, on the other hand, the calculations become exponentially more complex. And with such short delivery times, the margin for error or miscalculation grows even slimmer.

I'm not sure what the answer is, because there's no way to put the NIE genie back in the bottle. As Bush's recent sabre-rattling tour of the Middle East demonstrated, no one's really taking this administration seriously anymore. Condoleeza Rice has been reduced to basically begging the Iranians to accept our pre-conditions so we can negotiate directly, but really, at this point they've got no incentive to, and have as much as said that they'll wait to see what a new administration offers.

If there's any hope, it's in a third round of UN sanctions, and even that would just be for what it would offer in terms of US and EU sanctions. But it looks like in our zeal to restrain the crazies in Washington, we've unleashed the crazies in Tehran. And now we'll have to live with the consequences.

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   

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