An op-ed today in the NYT on Bush’s failure to invade Iran, by Ari Shavit misses the point. Shavit has gotten lots of praise for not hiding Israel’s flaws in his recent book, My Promised Land. However, his article just says that Bush should have attacked Iran rather than Iraq. It’s an example of Jewish hatred of Iran that I cited in my previous post, despite Shavit’s reputation as an enlightened Israeli.
Where Bush erred regarding Iran’s nuclear program was in India. India has flouted the nuclear non-proliferation regime, mainly embodied in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, for decades. It has had a clandestine nuclear weapons program ever since it started working on nuclear energy. At the end of his administration, Bush basically said, “Never mind about the NPT, India can have its nuclear program, civilian and military.” He made India the example for other proliferating countries, like Iran. He said you can break all the rules, and once you become a true nuclear weapons state like the US and Russia, you can keep your nuclear weapons. This is clearly what Iran wants, if it develops nuclear weapons, and India shows that it is a possibility.
I am not convinced that Iran has made the decision to develop nuclear weapons, and there are many examples of countries that have decided not to. Brazil was once in a position similar to Iran’s, having a nuclear energy program that could facilitate the development of nuclear weapons, and Brazil abandoned it and joined the NPT. That could still happen with Iran. Of course, one difference is that Brazil’s potential nuclear rival was Argentina. Brazil and Argentina mutually agreed to give up their military programs. Iran’s rival is Israel, and maybe Saudi Arabia. Israel is not likely to give up its nuclear weapons program. Saudi Arabia does not have one, and this is not a serious rival, although it has the money to buy one. By retaining its nuclear weapons program, Israel is probably the main factor encouraging Iran to pursue an Iranian bomb.
Another example of a nuclear rivalry is India and Pakistan. India has gotten the US seal of approval on its program. Pakistan has not, but it is so far along, that there is not much the US can do about it. It is probably in America’s interest to allow the more responsible Indians to vastly overpower the Pakistani nuclear arsenal as a way of decreasing the likelihood that the crazier Pakistanis might use theirs. However, there should be a better way to accomplish the goal of lowering tensions on the subcontinent without undermining the non-proliferation regime for the whole world, including Iran.