Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Comfortable with an Iranian Bomb


The ubiquitous Fareed Zakaria makes an interesting comparison in “What Iranians Least Expect.” He compares the prospect of an Iranian nuclear weapon with the dire predictions policymakers made about a Red Chinese bomb in the 1960s. The outcome of the PRC’s first bomb test in 1964 was quite different from what had been expected, Zakaria writes:

In 1964, many people argued for a pre-emptive strike against China. Wiser heads prevailed. But even President John F. Kennedy had worried that from the moment China went nuclear "it would dominate South East Asia." In fact, far from dominating it, China's bomb scared Southeast Asia into a closer association with the United States. Today, Chinese influence in the region is great and growing—but that's because of its economic heft, not its nukes. Iran is ruled by a failed regime that cannot modernize the country and is instead seeking a cheap path to influence. It didn't work for the communists in Russia or China and, if we keep our cool, it won't work for the mullahs in Tehran.

Earlier in the piece, Zakaria also notes that although Iran temporarily has the initiative in the Middle East—it has “outflanked” Arab regimes in their responses to wars in Palestine and Lebanon, and is riding high on about $55 billion in annual oil revenues—its neighbors will eventually adjust and move in concert to keep it from becoming a regional hegemon.

Although similarly hopeful arguments were made before the world wars about restraining Germany, the difference in the 21st century is that the U.S. exercises a veto over any overt expansion of a Middle Eastern power, supplementing its neighbors’ attempts to keep it in line.

(Thanks as always to John Brown's Public Diplomacy Review for the initial item.)

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