Those who advocate military action against Iran in order to prevent it from building a nuclear weapon typically advance the following justifications for doing so:
1. The Iranian government is oppressive.
2. The Iranian government is anti-West.
3. The Iranian government wants to use nuclear weapons for offensive purposes.
There is no way around the first point. Iran is indeed ruled by a dictatorship that is representative in form only. In 2009, the Iranian regime brutally crushed a series of mass protests after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad inexplicably won a second term by a wide margin in what was likely a fraudulent election.
However, in the realm of human rights, Iran is little different from Wahabbist Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Yemen, or any other despotic U.S. client in the region. That Iran is run by an oppressive regime can hardly be used as a credible justification for U.S. military involvement when the U.S. has been supporting such tyrannies there for decades.
Second, Iranians are suspicious of the West’s intentions because they have good reason to be. More than a century ago, a British oil speculator finagled a lopsided arrangement with the monarch of Iran (then Persia), allowing the British to take a majority of the profits reaped from Iranian oil sales for the next six decades. In 1941, the British and Soviets invaded a neutral Iran to secure its oil fields for Allied use. In 1954, the British and American intelligence services orchestrated an overthrow of Iran’s democratically elected government after the British refused a 50-50 split of the Anglo-Iranian oil company's profits, and installed the exiled Shah Reza Pahlavi, who proceeded to oversee a regime just as oppressive as the current one, if not more. He did so for 25 years with the full support of his Western allies, especially the U.S., which had no qualms about selling the Iranians material to be used in nuclear reactors.
In more recent times, the U.S. supported Saddam’s war of aggression against Iran, and has since invaded and occupied Iran’s neighbors to its east and west for the better part of a decade. If any American has a difficult time understanding the consternation this has caused in Iran, consider the prospect of major Iranian occupations in Canada and Mexico. Furthermore, the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet is stationed in the Persian Gulf and is within easy striking distance of Iran. Additionally, the past two U.S. administrations have declared that when it comes to dealing with Iran that "all options" are on the table. One can imagine the reaction that would follow in the U.S. if Ahmadinejad or Ali Khamenei were to express such sentiments about their policy regarding the U.S. It is also worth noting the regular threats from U.S. ally and nuclear power Israel about potential preventive strikes on Iran; not to mention the recent assassinations of two Iranian nuclear scientists, as well as the Israel-tested Stuxnet computer virus that set back Iran's Natanz nuclear facility. So while it may be right to say that the Iranians harbor anti-Western sentiments, these are not entirely unfounded or irrational.
Lastly, it is contended that Iran desires a nuclear weapon for offensive purposes so that it may strike Israel, Turkey, or others. But for Iran to use a nuclear weapon either directly or through a proxy such as Hezbollah, Ali Khamenei (who would make such a decision, not Ahmadinejad) and the rest of the Iranian (Guardian Council) leadership would have to have a death wish because they would undoubtedly be committing not only personal, but national suicide.
Nothing about Iran’s behavior indicates a willingness to commit national self-immolation to achieve such an objective, especially since Iran has not invaded another country since it was called Persia. While ultimate authority in Iran is held by mullahs, this hardly means that they are willing to meet Allah sooner rather than later.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons