The IAEA released a report yesterday delivering the harshest findings yet on Iran's nuclear program. As fears over the country's intentions rise, however, we should remember that despite popular belief, Iran is a rational actor.
Rational actors tend to do what is in their best interest to stay powerful and increase that power as best they can. They achieve this by having clear strategies with which to achieve their goals and a modus operandi to carry them out. The Iranian nuclear program is a picture-perfect example of one of many such strategies at Iran's disposal, but the West continues to try and eradicate it.
Given the limited options on the table, the only way to truly work towards reestablishing diplomatic relations with Iran – a country that shares many of the same national security concerns as the U.S. – is to shelf the nuclear issue. It is a futile attempt that does nothing but waste time and resources as well as squander the possibility of collaboration between America and its Central Asian adversary.
This creates a problem for those opposed to Iran's aspirations. Despite the rhetoric, everyone knows that a military option is completely unsustainable. An air attack will do nothing but set the time table back a few years while increasing the tenacity to go nuclear, and a ground attack will create an insurgency-driven war that would make Iraq look like Grenada. If you don't believe me, do a quick search on the purpose of Iran's million-man Basij force.
Sanctions may hinder, but will not stop nuclear progress. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) exclusively operates hundreds of jetties it uses to import black market goods. Sanctions will have little effect on them.
Since stopping Iran's nuclear program seems impossible, why keep trying? The main reason we do not have diplomatic relations with Iran is that neither side is willing to budge on the nuclear issue. In the past, U.S. power afforded it the luxury of not having to budge. Given our weakened state of health, this is no longer the case, and Iran knows that.
Like it or not, diplomacy is the name of the game, and diplomacy will mean allowing Iran to go nuclear. One must realize that Iran views its nuclear program as a bargaining chip and way to make the international community take it seriously, not a means to destroy its enemies and take over the world.
A nuclear Iran may sound terrifying, but let's think it out.
The first fear is that Iranian nukes will unleash a wave of nuclear proliferation across the Middle East. As long as the U.S. continues to provide a security umbrella for Middle Eastern allies, this should not become a problem. The Obama administration hasn’t hesitated to sell Saudi Arabia billions of dollars worth of military hardware to protect itself from Iran and plans on more sales in the future.
The second fear is that a nuclear armed Iran will flex its muscles and become the bully of the region. With U.S. support for Israel, the bolstering of Middle Eastern allies with sophisticated weapons systems, and the strongest Navy in the world surrounding the Persian Gulf, even removing U.S. boots from the area surrounding Iran may not necessarily hurt. No rational nation, which Iran surely is, will tolerate a restless neighbor. If Iranian clout grows in Iraq, that is a far better scenario for everyone if they take over the responsibility of maintaining order in the region.
The third fear is that Iran will wipe Israel off the planet. As mentioned earlier, rational actors don't do things that will surely lead to their demise, and an attack on Israel would give the entire international community an excuse, if not an obligation, to exterminate malevolent Iranian leadership. Ayatollah Khomeini is an Islamist, not stupid.
While there is a point to be made that more nuclear weapons are typically antithetical to peaceful progress, that may just be the opposite with Iran. Its use of a nuclear program, effectively or not, is as a bargaining chip and nothing more.
What this strategy achieves as an aside is creating a situation that Iran cannot take lightly. If it is allowed to go nuclear, it will be taking on an enormous responsibility that the international community will absolutely make sure it keeps up with. Possessing nuclear weapons will make Iran more accountable than if it did not. In fact, if Iran makes a wrong move after it goes nuclear, it will unwittingly give the international community all of the justifiable cause it needs to rain down UN hellfire on the Iranian power elite. Now why would a rational actor do that?
The West has many mutual interests with the Persian powerhouse. It would be a shame if we let a few harmless nukes get in the way.
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