Should Iran Worry that We'd Nuke Them If They Nuked Us?

As President Obama continues to play Charlie Brown to Iran's Lucy and flops each time he tries to kick the nuclear football away, we need to ask two questions. (1) Should Iranian leaders be afraid that President Obama would nuke Iran if Iran nuked the United States, or any U.S. ally? (2) Would Iranian leaders care if President Obama did nuke Iran?

After all, it's the assumption that the cost of using nuclear weapons would outweigh any conceivable gains that has deterred countries from starting a nuclear war -- so far. Not that there haven't been close calls. The United States almost went to war with the Soviet Union during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and again in 1983 during NATO's Able Archer exercise, a simulated nuclear strike that some Soviet leaders mistakenly believed was cover for an actual attack.

For Iranian leaders to be deterred from using nuclear weapons against the United States or any U.S. ally, they must fear that President Obama would reciprocate any Iranian nuclear attack on the United States or a U.S. ally. But would he?

Should Iranian leaders fear that Nobel-Peace-Prize-winner Obama would kill millions of blameless Iranian civilians in revenge for what most Americans would consider an irrational act by Iranian leaders? Would it be unreasonable for Iranian leaders to believe that "Citizen of the World" Obama would never act unilaterally and vindictively but instead would leave it up to the world community to decide whether or not the United States should retaliate? How many in the world community would believe that the United States got what it deserved?

Even if President Obama were willing to nuke Iran in response to a missile attack against a U.S. city, what if the attack were against Kuwait or Saudi Arabia?

Should Iranian leaders believe that an attack on one of the U.S.'s allies would draw as certain a response?

What if Iranian leaders supplied nuclear weapons to terrorists and those terrorists used a motor vehicle or ship to deliver nuclear devastation? Would President Obama retaliate without knowing for sure that the weapons came from Iran? How certain would he have to be? 100%? 75% 51%? Nuclear forensics hasn't achieved "C.S.I." certainty in determining where nuclear debris originated. What if it can be determined with certainty that nuclear weapons came from Iran but Iranian leaders say that the weapons were stolen? How sure would President Obama have to be that Iran was lying?

For Iranian leaders to be deterred from using nuclear weapons, not only would they have to believe that a nuclear attack would be met with a nuclear response, but they also would have to view civilian deaths with the same horror as we do. However, according to Bernard Lewis (Wall Street Journal, August 8, 2006), renowned historian of Islam and the Middle East, Iranian leaders would believe that they were "doing their Muslim victims a favor by giving them a quick path to heaven and its delights -- the rewards without the struggle of martyrdom."

Worse, Iranian leaders may believe that they have more to gain than to lose from nuclear conflagration. Many Shiite Muslims believe that a 12th Imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi, will return when humankind is in chaos, whereupon he will bring peace and justice by establishing Islam throughout the world. Although most of these Shiites believe that this chaos must develop naturally, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is one of a small number who believe that humans can cause the chaos necessary to trigger al-Mahdi's return.

For the United States to be able to live with a nuclear-armed Iran, our allies would have to believe that President Obama would protect them against Iranian aggression. But would U.S. allies rely on the President for protection? Or would they decide to protect themselves by developing their own nuclear weapons or caving in to Iranian demands? Either outcome would hurt our national and economic security.
In his memoir, An American Life, President Reagan described the nuclear standoff between the 
United States and the Soviet Union as "like having two westerners standing in a saloon
aiming their guns at each other's head -- permanently." Imagine adding Middle-Eastern
leaders to the mix. We might start looking back nostalgically at $4-a-gallon gasoline.
Even if Iranian leaders don't plan to use their nuclear weapons, mere possession could embolden them to work against U.S. interests. In nuclear brinkmanship, advantage goes to the side that appears out of control. How far would the rational and cool-headed Obama be willing to press the Holocaust-denying Ahmadinejad?

We need to accommodate Iran's legitimate needs for security and respect but also give Iranian leaders reason to believe that Iran will lose both by continuing to develop nuclear weapons. We need to gather a coalition willing to impose serious sanctions and use military force if all else fails.

Deciding that we should try to live with a nuclear-armed Iran rather than impose sanctions or take military action may seem the best of bad alternatives. But good intentions would be worthless to the millions who die because Iranian leaders don't view the world the same way as other nuclear powers...or the millions more we feel compelled to annihilate to prove that Iranian leaders misjudged our willingness to kill innocent civilians.

If U.S. inaction prompts Israel to take military action, we may breathe a sigh of relief and join the chorus condemning the Israelis for war crimes. But we would be abrogating our moral responsibility.
As President Obama continues to play Charlie Brown to Iran's Lucy and flops each time he tries to kick the nuclear football away, we need to ask two questions. (1) Should Iranian leaders be afraid that President Obama would nuke Iran if Iran nuked the United States, or any U.S. ally? (2) Would Iranian leaders care if President Obama did nuke Iran?

After all, it's the assumption that the cost of using nuclear weapons would outweigh any conceivable gains that has deterred countries from starting a nuclear war -- so far. Not that there haven't been close calls. The United States almost went to war with the Soviet Union during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and again in 1983 during NATO's Able Archer exercise, a simulated nuclear strike that some Soviet leaders mistakenly believed was cover for an actual attack.

For Iranian leaders to be deterred from using nuclear weapons against the United States or any U.S. ally, they must fear that President Obama would reciprocate any Iranian nuclear attack on the United States or a U.S. ally. But would he?

Should Iranian leaders fear that Nobel-Peace-Prize-winner Obama would kill millions of blameless Iranian civilians in revenge for what most Americans would consider an irrational act by Iranian leaders? Would it be unreasonable for Iranian leaders to believe that "Citizen of the World" Obama would never act unilaterally and vindictively but instead would leave it up to the world community to decide whether or not the United States should retaliate? How many in the world community would believe that the United States got what it deserved?

Even if President Obama were willing to nuke Iran in response to a missile attack against a U.S. city, what if the attack were against Kuwait or Saudi Arabia?

Should Iranian leaders believe that an attack on one of the U.S.'s allies would draw as certain a response?

What if Iranian leaders supplied nuclear weapons to terrorists and those terrorists used a motor vehicle or ship to deliver nuclear devastation? Would President Obama retaliate without knowing for sure that the weapons came from Iran? How certain would he have to be? 100%? 75% 51%? Nuclear forensics hasn't achieved "C.S.I." certainty in determining where nuclear debris originated. What if it can be determined with certainty that nuclear weapons came from Iran but Iranian leaders say that the weapons were stolen? How sure would President Obama have to be that Iran was lying?

For Iranian leaders to be deterred from using nuclear weapons, not only would they have to believe that a nuclear attack would be met with a nuclear response, but they also would have to view civilian deaths with the same horror as we do. However, according to Bernard Lewis (Wall Street Journal, August 8, 2006), renowned historian of Islam and the Middle East, Iranian leaders would believe that they were "doing their Muslim victims a favor by giving them a quick path to heaven and its delights -- the rewards without the struggle of martyrdom."

Worse, Iranian leaders may believe that they have more to gain than to lose from nuclear conflagration. Many Shiite Muslims believe that a 12th Imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi, will return when humankind is in chaos, whereupon he will bring peace and justice by establishing Islam throughout the world. Although most of these Shiites believe that this chaos must develop naturally, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is one of a small number who believe that humans can cause the chaos necessary to trigger al-Mahdi's return.

For the United States to be able to live with a nuclear-armed Iran, our allies would have to believe that President Obama would protect them against Iranian aggression. But would U.S. allies rely on the President for protection? Or would they decide to protect themselves by developing their own nuclear weapons or caving in to Iranian demands? Either outcome would hurt our national and economic security.
In his memoir, An American Life, President Reagan described the nuclear standoff between the 
United States and the Soviet Union as "like having two westerners standing in a saloon
aiming their guns at each other's head -- permanently." Imagine adding Middle-Eastern
leaders to the mix. We might start looking back nostalgically at $4-a-gallon gasoline.
Even if Iranian leaders don't plan to use their nuclear weapons, mere possession could embolden them to work against U.S. interests. In nuclear brinkmanship, advantage goes to the side that appears out of control. How far would the rational and cool-headed Obama be willing to press the Holocaust-denying Ahmadinejad?

We need to accommodate Iran's legitimate needs for security and respect but also give Iranian leaders reason to believe that Iran will lose both by continuing to develop nuclear weapons. We need to gather a coalition willing to impose serious sanctions and use military force if all else fails.

Deciding that we should try to live with a nuclear-armed Iran rather than impose sanctions or take military action may seem the best of bad alternatives. But good intentions would be worthless to the millions who die because Iranian leaders don't view the world the same way as other nuclear powers...or the millions more we feel compelled to annihilate to prove that Iranian leaders misjudged our willingness to kill innocent civilians.

If U.S. inaction prompts Israel to take military action, we may breathe a sigh of relief and join the chorus condemning the Israelis for war crimes. But we would be abrogating our moral responsibility.