Saturday, November 04, 2006

The dark horizon

The Times of London reports that "Six Arab states join rush to go nuclear". It basically says that Arab states, fearing an Iranian nuclear weapon, have renounced their former disavowal of nuclear programs, leading some experts believe they want the bomb.


The specter of a nuclear race in the Middle East was raised yesterday when six Arab states announced that they were embarking on programmes to master atomic technology.

The move, which follows the failure by the West to curb Iran’s controversial nuclear programme, could see a rapid spread of nuclear reactors in one of the world’s most unstable regions, stretching from the Gulf to the Levant and into North Africa.

The countries involved were named by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and Saudi Arabia. Tunisia and the UAE have also shown interest. ...

“If Iran was not on the path to a nuclear weapons capability you would probably not see this sudden rush [in the Arab world],” he said.

The announcement by the six nations is a stunning reversal of policy in the Arab world, which had until recently been pressing for a nuclear free Middle East, where only Israel has nuclear weapons.

Noah Feldman, in an article discussed on the Belmont Club only some days ago, predicted this very thing. The enmities within the Islamic world are enough to fuel the fires of Armageddon. Feldman made the argument that Arab states were never worried about the Israeli bomb. Sadat attacked a nuclear armed Israel in 1973 without worrying he would be nuked by the perfidious Jew.

Today the nuclear game in the region has changed. When the Arab League’s secretary general, Amr Moussa, called for “a Middle East free of nuclear weapons” this past May, it wasn’t Israel that prompted his remarks. He was worried about Iran, whose self-declared ambition to become a nuclear power has been steadily approaching realization.

The anti-Israel statements of the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, coupled with Iran’s support for Hezbollah and Hamas, might lead you to think that the Arab states would welcome Iran’s nuclear program. After all, the call to wipe the Zionist regime from the map is a longstanding cliché of Arab nationalist rhetoric. But the interests of Shiite non-Arab Iran do not always coincide with those of Arab leaders. A nuclear Iran means, at the very least, a realignment of power dynamics in the Persian Gulf. It could potentially mean much more: a historic shift in the position of the long-subordinated Shiite minority relative to the power and prestige of the Sunni majority, which traditionally dominated the Muslim world. Many Arab Sunnis fear that the moment is ripe for a Shiite rise. Iraq’s Shiite majority has been asserting the right to govern, and the lesson has not been lost on the Shiite majority in Bahrain and the large minorities in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia. King Abdullah of Jordan has warned of a “Shiite crescent” of power stretching from Iran to Lebanon via Iraq and (by proxy) Syria.

But geopolitics is not the only reason Sunni Arab leaders are rattled by the prospect of a nuclear Iran. They also seem to be worried that the Iranians might actually use nuclear weapons if they get them. A nuclear attack on Israel would engulf the whole region. But that is not the only danger: Sunnis in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere fear that the Iranians might just use a nuclear bomb against them. Even as Iran’s defiance of the United States and Israel wins support among some Sunnis, extremist Sunnis have been engaging in the act of takfir, condemning all Shiites as infidels. On the ground in Iraq, Sunni takfiris are putting this theory into practice, aiming at Shiite civilians and killing them indiscriminately. Shiite militias have been responding in kind, and massacres of Sunni civilians are no longer isolated events.

Adding the nuclear ingredient to this volatile mix will certainly produce an arms race. If Iran is going to get the bomb, its neighbors will have no choice but to keep up. North Korea, now protected by its own bomb, has threatened proliferation — and in the Middle East it would find a number of willing buyers. Small principalities with huge U.S. Air Force bases, like Qatar, might choose to rely on an American protective umbrella. But Saudi Arabia, which has always seen Iran as a threatening competitor, will not be willing to place its nuclear security entirely in American hands. Once the Saudis are in the hunt, Egypt will need nuclear weapons to keep it from becoming irrelevant to the regional power balance — and sure enough, last month Gamal Mubarak, President Mubarak’s son and Egypt’s heir apparent, very publicly announced that Egypt should pursue a nuclear program.

Commentary

The fundamental critique of the "neocons" in the Vanity Fair article criticizing the Administration on Iraq is not that Bush went too far but that he didn't go far and decisively enough. "Michael Rubin, former Pentagon Office of Special Plans and Coalition Provisional Authority staffer said "where I most blame George Bush is that through his rhetoric people trusted him, people believed him. Reformists came out of the woodwork and exposed themselves." By failing to match his rhetoric with action, Rubin adds, Bush has betrayed Iraqi reformers in a way that is "not much different from what his father did on February 15, 1991, when he called the Iraqi people to rise up, and then had second thoughts and didn't do anything once they did."

We hear over and over again in the interview: It was a performance problem. Bush was right but he couldn't deliver. Kenneth Adelman is quoted as saying: "I guess that's what I would have said: that Bush's arguments are absolutely right, but you know what, you just have to put them in the drawer marked can't do. And that's very different from let's go."

The problem is that the US can't have a drawer marked "can't do". The problems of Middle Eastern nuclear arms race, North Korean belligerence, the problems in Iraq and terrorist threats can't be labeled "can't do". If the US political system hasn't found a way to solve those problems under the current administration then it has to find another way under a different administration. But if the choice is between an adminstration which "can't do" and an administration in waiting that "won't do" then the options for the future are threadbare indeed. But they are only as threadbare as the inability to solve the problem. On that note, here's a YouTube video.

15 Comments:

Blogger wretchard said...

Here's what we almost certainly know how to do.

Annan Condemns Recent Attacks in Darfur Killing Civilians

"Condemning the recent militia attacks in Sudan's strife-torn West Darfur region that killed scores of civilians, reportedly including young children, and forced thousands more to flee, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today called on all sides to respect humanitarian law and appealed to the Government to prevent such violence.

"The Secretary-General condemns the large-scale militia attacks in the Jebel Moon area... on 29 and 30 October. The attacks on eight civilian settlements, including a camp harbouring some 3,500 internally displaced persons, caused scores of civilian deaths and forced thousands to flee the area," Mr. Annan said in a statement attributable to his spokesman."


But will it be enough?

11/04/2006 04:04:00 AM  
Blogger 2164th said...

Because of the painfully slow process of getting the EU and the US to come up with a credible strategy with Iran, and the outrageous and unforgivable interference by Russia and in a lesser role China, Iran will have a nuclear weapon. The Arab states in the region are not going to tolerate a nuclear Iran without having their own nuclear protection. They do not trust Iran. Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, UAE and Saudi Arabia will all seek atomic technology and ultimately nuclear weapons. As discussed in Vanity Fair, the US failure to stabilize Iraq, has broken respect and trust in US leadership and capabilities.

No one trusts the United States to either successfully rule in the ME , or force order and stability; no one. That is the damage done by the Iraq war. It is not important how or why that happened. It is what it is and cannot be easily undone, yet it must be undone. As we have painfully learned, Hamas and every other radical Islamic group will use anything to achieve their goals. That anything cannot and must not be nuclear weapons. If Iran gets nuclear weapons, all bets are off. A nuclear Middle East will be a dismal fact of life or death.

Instability, militant Islam, nuclear proliferation and the apparent lack of effective US leadership is a very bad combination. George Bush with or without Congress is going to be President for two more years. We do not have two more years to waste and not make serious progress in dealing with the Middle East. After the election , a wise President will have to make some very difficult and necessary changes to reassert American Leadership and begin to fix a very broken foreign policy. Europe must be brought on board. Israeli security must be addressed. Equally, the security of the Arab states must be guaranteed in some credible fashion. This is the most difficult position the US has been in for some time. The team of Rumsfeld and Rice is not going to do it. Everyone, including the Europeans will be tempted to wait out the balance of the Bush Administration and hope for something new and better from the next US President.

Can Bush do it. Yes, if he is wise enough to make the decision to get rid of the people who have failed his administration and the country. No, if he is too stubborn and weak to make the difficult decision of firing people he likes. Bush must quickly install a new team of recognizably respected and talented people who will demonstrate a firm American resolve to fix one hell of a mess.

11/04/2006 04:18:00 AM  
Blogger wretchard said...

2164th,

Whatever the particulars I think that's the right attitude. We have a President, we have a Congress. And it may not be the perfect one but it's the only one there is. So if something's broke, let's fix it. I am unpersuaded there is any real benefit from headlong flight or searching for coins only under lamp-posts. If flight would help let's take to our heels. But I'm unsure it will help at all. We'll only die tired.

11/04/2006 04:27:00 AM  
Blogger Woman Catholic said...

I am unpersuaded there is any real benefit from headlong flight or searching for coins only under lamp-posts.

There's 140,000 troops in Iraq, but tonight only 15,000-20,000 will go on patrol, which means they will drive around in the Sunni areas like a target and try not to get their ass shot out from under them. Talk about coins and lamp-posts. Bush is getting all the downside of being an "occupier" without actually being an occupier.

11/04/2006 05:57:00 AM  
Blogger metaphysician said...

Teresita-

I always wonder whether it occurs to anyone, that by constantly accusing the US of every crime and horror under the sun, they make it more likely that in the future we *will* commit said crime or horror.

After all, if you'll be equally condemned anyway. . .

11/04/2006 06:31:00 AM  
Blogger Charles said...

I didn't think before that the US would bomb the Iranian nuclear facilities.

Now I believe its a forgone conclusion. The bombing of Iranian nuclear facilities is built into the logic of events.

As the 19th century diplomat is reputed to have said. "Sir, you know this means war."

Stock up on gasoline.

11/04/2006 09:01:00 AM  
Blogger 3Case said...

- - still tryin' to figure out why AQ kahn has not got the Gerald Bull treatment - -

11/04/2006 09:55:00 AM  
Blogger Charles said...

N. Korea wants Japan out of nuclear talks
Pyongyang derides Japanese officials as ‘political imbeciles’ over remarks

Updated: 8:36 p.m. ET Nov 3, 2006

SEOUL, South Korea - North Korea on Saturday lashed out at Japanese officials as "political imbeciles" for comments that they won't accept the communist nation as a nuclear power, and said Tokyo shouldn't take part in revived talks on the North's atomic program.

11/04/2006 12:45:00 PM  
Blogger MG said...

I rarely comment, but I really can't let the following go by...

"...only 15,000-20,000 will go on patrol, which means they will drive around in the Sunni areas like a target and try not to get their ass shot out from under them."

Some of these patrols are "presence patrols", acting like windshield wipers.

Some of these patrols are using specific intelligence to raid specific targets.

NONE of them are just "driving around Sunni areas like a target". If they are trying to lure the thugs into an attack, then so much the better. Our soldiers own the night, and give several multiples better than they get.

MG

11/04/2006 08:01:00 PM  
Blogger MG said...

PS: Let's get one thing clear -- the US-led coalition holds the trump cards in this whole thing. China, Russia, France, et al can use this situation just as they used the Oil for Food program, but when we decide to act, they will have no effective recourse but accepting reality.

PPS: Yes, I do mean that when we forcibly destroy Iran's WMD programs, the Enabling 3 will have no influence on the action, or the outcome.

11/04/2006 08:05:00 PM  
Blogger Robert Schwartz said...

Only in the minds of Americans could final analysis of the Iraq situation be essayed. We are a mere three years into a twenty to thirty year process. If we decide to withdraw now, by electing a congress of donkeys, or otherwise. The disasters that follow are predictable.

One of them will be nuclear war, probably started by a terrorist group setting off a nuclear device in an American city.

Another one will be Iranian attempts at regional hegemony resulting in a long series of wars around the Gulf.

If we can stay the course we can look forward to some sort of stable Iraq. I now think that the Sunnis have a very short window in which to sue for peace. If they don't, they will probably be killed or driven out of Iraq. It is most likely that the Shia Arabs and the Kurds will part ways after that.

However, a Shia republic is not good news for Iran. The Persians who dominate Iran are a bare majority there. There is a great deal of emnity between the Arabs and Persians, even when both are Shia.

Iran is hoping that they can drive the US out of Iraq and set their stooges (such as Sadr) up as the government of Iraq. An independent Shia governed Iraq would be a real thorn in their side.

People who think that we can negotiate with the Iranians for peace in Iraq are delusional. The Iranians believe that it is rule or ruin, and they have no interest in an independent Iraq. It is not unimportant to remember (and every Persian child knows) that the capital of Persian empires (Parthian and Sassanian)for 8 centuries until the Arab conquest in the 7th century was Ctesphon, which was 20 miles down the Tigris from where Baghdad now is.

The Epic of Iran, by Reza Aslan, NYTimes, April 30, 2006


Damn this world, damn this time, damn this fate,
That uncivilized Arabs have come to make me Muslim.

Written more than a thousand years ago by Abolqasem Ferdowsi, the "Shahnameh," or "Book of Kings," recounts the mythological history of Iran from the first fitful moments of creation to the Arab conquest of the Persian Empire in the seventh century A.D. Ferdowsi was a member of Iran's aristocratic class, which maintained a strong attachment to the heritage of pre-Islamic Iran. * * *

Most Iranians have either read the "Shahnameh" or have heard it read. Its verses are sprinkled into everyday conversation. Children are named after its heroes and political enemies likened to its villains. For many Iranians, the "Shahnameh" links past and present, forming a cohesive mytho-historical narrative through which they understand their place in the world. The poem is, in a sense, Iran's national scripture, and Ferdowsi Iran's national prophet. * * *

Ferdowsi was a pious Muslim; his epic speaks reverently of the Prophet Muhammad and his son-in-law Ali. Nevertheless, the "Shahnameh" displays an unmistakable antagonism toward the Arabs and the culture, if not the religion, they imposed on Iran. * * *

The message is hardly subtle. In fact, Ferdowsi's animosity toward the Arabs carries the poem to its tragic end, when the warrior Rostam stands before the invading Arab armies and laments,

When the pulpit's equal to the throne
And Abu Bakr's and Omar's names are known
Our long travails will be as naught, and all
The glory we have known will fade and fall.
The stars are with the Arabs, and you'll see
No crown or throne, no royal sovereignty.

11/04/2006 08:41:00 PM  
Blogger What is "Occupation" said...

I bet the Iranians will wet themselves when their ARAB enemies have nukes...

careful iran of what you wish for... Arabs have killed more iranians than israel has ever killed of all moslems times 10,000

11/05/2006 02:59:00 PM  
Blogger jim, northern CA said...

Nuclear containment is over. When the disaster strikes, our leftist neighbors won't even remember that they made sure that the Bush attempt to keep things on the rails would fail.
One suspects that our borders WILL be made more secure over the next decades. An that our civil rights will necessarily (and voluntarily) curtailed in ways we never believed possible in our younger days.
I disagree that bombing of the Iranian nuclear facilities is a foregone conclusion. Perhaps a bombing of the Iranian oil fields would be a better first attempt. It seriously weakens Iran. Also, does some (economic) damage to the Euros and Chinese.

11/05/2006 07:09:00 PM  
Blogger Charles Frith said...

This is an erudite and articulate blog for which polemical comments don't do justice. But I ask you. What seperates you from the burning oil fields of Kuwait if the fire of the U.S. industrial military complex multiplied by geopolitical oil addiction is brought down on and sets alight the oil fields of Iran. Exactly how are you different when you blow up nuclear plants. How many friends do you have to lose before the consideration to a problem closer to home occurs?

11/06/2006 08:13:00 AM  
Blogger Karridine said...

2164th: "The Arab states in the region are not going to tolerate a nuclear Iran without having their own nuclear protection. They do not trust Iran."

Actually, the Muslim/Arab states DO TRUST Iran... to USE nuclear weapons, and against THEM!

11/07/2006 01:54:00 AM  

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