In the palmy days of a year ago, when, as every comics collector knows, President Obama was expected to personally assist Spiderman and other superheroes along with his usual duties, one of his superpowers, according to our best and brightest liberal pundits, was going to be the ability to straighten everything out with the Islamic Republic of Iran by some in-person diplomacy in the tradition of President Nixon’s trip to China in 1972. In the months since, as the mullahs and their government have effectively brushed off all the President’s overtures, this hope has faded, and now, at the website of Foreign Policy magazine, Michael Singh maintains that there is no point to pursuing a policy of Presidential diplomacy where Iran is concerned. The gist of his argument is in the following paragraphs:
Those who argue in favor of containment generally have in mind nuclear deterrence — that is, preventing Iran from actually using a nuclear weapon. And history suggests that they have a point — no nuclear power besides the United States has ever employed the bomb, and a combination of missile defenses and a declaratory policy promising retaliation could prove powerful deterrents to Iran doing so. While we should not count too heavily on the Iranian regime’s rationality — its officials have, after all, mused about destroying Israel — neither should we exaggerate the likelihood that Iran would initiate a nuclear conflict that would prove its own demise.
The possibility that it would use a nuclear weapon is, however, only the beginning of the dangers that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose. Of perhaps greater concern is that Iran would transfer its nuclear know-how to other countries or, far more alarming, to terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas. This scenario is not far-fetched — nuclear powers have regularly transferred their technology to others, and Iran in particular has been generous in sharing advanced military hardware with its proxies, like the advanced rocketry employed by Hezbollah against Israel or IEDs used by Iraqi insurgents against American troops. Even if they were denied the ultimate weapons by Tehran, these groups would surely feel emboldened under its nuclear umbrella to step up their activities against Western and Arab interests.
Added to this danger is the likelihood that Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons would fundamentally change the security landscape in the Middle East. Iran’s neighbors would be faced with a grim choice — pursue a nuclear weapons capability of their own, or resign themselves to Iranian hegemony for the foreseeable future. Given their longstanding mistrust of Tehran, it is likely that those which could pursue the nuclear path would do so. Such a development would leave the United States not simply to contain a nuclear-armed Iran, but to manage a broadly nuclearized Middle East and its implications for the already-shaky global nonproliferation regime. These are threats against which even the most advanced missile defense or the strongest declaratory policy afford no protection.