Among the particulars of Teh Narrative that unites Progressives is that Iran should be permitted (or positively encouraged, depending on individual character) to have nuclear weapons. If you examine the stated rationale(s) for that, and drill down past the boilerplate, BOMFOG, and bullshit, you will eventually reach the core consideration, which is “fairness” as understood by the caricature kindergarten teacher: “Class, I see that little Sammy has nuclear weapons. Sammy, I do hope that you brought enough for everyone.”
Let it be said from the outset that, as in most instances of Teh Narrative, there is a valid core to the concept. I know of nothing, either explicit or suggested, in the character of the Iranian people that would make them either less or more satisfactory and responsible than anyone else, including us, as caretakers of The Bomb. As to capability, pah. Anyone who had to deal with the Iranians (expatriates all) of my acquaintance might characterize them as “arrogant”, “overbearing”, and cognates, but there’s no denying they’re bright. Hard as nuclear weapons might be, I see no reason to assume Iranians couldn’t figure it out; and, absent other considerations, they have a couple of valid reasons for wanting them that boil down to much the same reasons we, or the other Western nuclear powers, have asserted. The Fulda Gap may be unique terrain, but the strategies involved are applicable in many other places.
At the top of that list is something few are willing to acknowledge, much less discuss. Back a while ago, Iraq under Saddam invaded Iran, and the Iranians were hard put to it to drive them off; they did succeed, but at enormous cost in money, materiel, and manpower. One of the many things that incident establishes is that, at that time, the armed forces of the two countries were more or less at parity, with neither enjoying any real advantage.
Later on, of course, American forces went through Saddam’s army not so much like a knife through butter as like a knife through water — the defenders might as well have just gone home and saved themselves the trouble, which many of them did. Those same Americans, having established that the norm for Iraqi (and therefore Irani, at parity) forces was vastly inferior to American standards, then turned around and started instructing Iraqi forces with the stated aim of bringing them up to, if not parity with us, at least to the point that they were not contemptible in comparison. Think of that from the point of view of an Iranian military planner. If it doesn’t make you break out in a cold sweat, you have no empathy (or, more probably, you don’t understand what’s going on).
We — the Western powers — wanted and developed nuclear weapons because the Soviets had an overwhelming advantage in manpower and materiel in eastern Europe. If tanks with red stars on started pouring through the Fulda Gap, there was little to no chance that the pitiful numbers of American, British, and German troops available would have even been a significant speed bump. Nuclear weapons, by taking out wide swathes of armor and support at minimal immediate cost, would level the playing field a bit. Now imagine yourself an Iranian, and Iraqi troops trained up by Americans to American standards start rolling across the border. It’s the same situation, isn’t it?
Yes, yes, I see the raised hands, the squirming, and the suppressed expostulations. An Iranian General, if he’s sane, wants nuclear weapons for perfectly sane, normal, and ultimately defensive military reasons. The mullahs and their stooges are quite another story. Their reasons, publicly stated (repeatedly, and viva voce), for wanting nuclear weapons are to bring back the Mahdi, to establish and preserve a hegemonic position vis-a-vis the Middle East, and to destroy Israel; that last, in their view, would establish them as legitimate hegemons. Our perfectly sane Iranian General might very well go along with the hegemonic ambitions, out of patriotism and an assumption of superiority — see “arrogance”, above. We might not think him a nice guy for feeling that way, but it’s a sane ambition.
The trouble with destroying Israel with nuclear weapons — and the only reason the mullahs might hesitate to do it — is that it would group them, in the minds of their neighbors, with us and the other “oppressors”. Uniquely in the world, the United States has used nuclear weapons in war, and that generates is a sneaking suspicion in the minds of potential enemies (and friends) that we might do so again. If the mullahs join that club by blowing Tel Aviv to radioactive smithereens, it might very well induce surface obeisance to their power, but gaining legitimacy as hegemon is much less likely. Remember that Iranians are Shi’ia, and that Sunni think Shi’ia are more than a little nuts to begin with. Add to that the remnants of Zoroastrianism that permeate Iranian society the same way the pagan past influences Christianity — Christmas trees, e.g. — and Iranian mullahs with atomic bombs look less and less attractive, especially from the Islamist point of view. We might even see mad bombers blowing up Iranian airplanes for the love of Allah, and wouldn’t that be fun?
Bringing back the Mahdi — the Twelfth or “Hidden” Imam, the Shi’ia equivalent of a Messiah — is an even less sane ambition. It is millenialism, and millenialism is not sane. Prophecies may come true, but you can’t force them by nudging God (Allah to Zeus, take your pick). Even pagan religions agree: you may be able to bribe or cajole the gods, and in some cases you might be able to fool them, but poking them with a sharp stick to force them to deliver is definitely contraindicated. It’s just another reason for Sunni to think Shi’ia are a couple of legumes short of a five-bean salad, and sophisticated Shi’ia (of which there are many) very likely would tend to agree.
The pursuit of hegemonism can better be done in other ways, many of which the mullahs are displaying sophistication to the point of expertise in using. Subterfuge and Great Game tactics, buying off tribal leaders and Assad clones, sending money to Hizb’Allah and Hamas, and subtle (and not-so-subtle) interventions across the board, are yielding them great dividends in that respect. They are mightily aided by the Islamists, whose antics serve as a distraction for the Western powers, who are busily trying (within contemptible self-imposed restrictions) to protect themselves from mad bombers and have little attention left for opposing more subtle tactics.
Why, then, if simpler and cheaper tactics are yielding such results, are the mullahs still making a big deal out of nukes? Two reasons: it gratifies the self-image of Iranians, especially those who make a big deal out of “Persian”, and thus gives them legitimacy among their own people; and it makes the Progressives look like the fools they are, which (since it’s mostly Proggs among the leaders of the West at the moment) puts them continually one up in the bait-and-switch game they’ve been playing so expertly. I have virtually no doubt that they will eventually get the Bomb, and relatively soon. I’m a little less certain, though still consider it likely, that they’ll use it on Israel. If they do, though, I take great comfort in knowing that I and those I admire are ‘way down the target list for the next few.
Like most folks in the world, the mullahs barely know Red America exists, and to the extent they do know it their picture is entirely derived from the Progressive stereotype that’s the only thing the Press will allow to be presented. That, in turn, fits perfectly with their image of the rural and desert tribes in their own country — ignorant, pliable, easily fooled, and ultimately dismissable. Whether or not the picture is true is irrelevant to the question of where the next bombs will go, and it’s Parisians, Berliners, Londoners, New Yorkers, and Washingtonians who need to be looking at country real estate and researching chelating agents on the Internet.