Alex Massie

Preparing for a Nuclear Iran

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That's the message of the US's forthcoming $60bn arms-deal with Saudi Arabia. Or so says David Rothkopf anyway:

[T]he reason that the U.S. government -- that would not have done a deal like this in the years right after 9/11 -- is willing and even a little eager to move ahead with the deal now is that the War on Terror is being overtaken among top U.S. concerns by the advent of a nuclear Iran. 

Now, you may quibble by pointing out that Iran does not yet have nuclear weapons. But this is a purely academic argument. This deal is the latest example of behavior suggesting that the nuclearization of Iran is all over but for the bomb building in the eyes of U.S. and regional strategists.

[... The giant arms deal -- 84 new F-15s, 70 upgraded planes, 72 Blackhawk helicopters -- is part of the remaking of the strategic lay of the land in the Middle East, a plan to enable the Saudis to gain air superiority over their neighbor. Of course, the result is a much closer relationship between the U.S. and the Saudis which has significant implications for other U.S. relationships in the region, e.g. with Israel. And certainly much of our future planning with regard to Iraq and Afghanistan is likely to be oriented toward maintaining the kind of presence that will enable us to use posts there as part of the larger Iran containment strategy.

More problematically still, this kind of support for the Saudis ensures that different strands of American policy are working at cross-purposes to the point, perhaps, where different American objectives become mutually exclusive. Washington would like a totally transformed middle east; deep down it suspects this isn't possible and, anyway, nothing is so terrifying as instability and change guarantees instability so change is not a Good Thing.

Admittedly, the Obama administration has dialled-back on the human rights and liberty agenda that was, at least fitfully, a part of the Bush administration's long-term, optimistic, vision for the wider Middle East. Nevertheless, Washington continues to talk a lot about values (while forgetting that the rest of the world can hear this) and then demonstrates the worth of those values by buttressing and arming disgusting regimes whose repressive policies help produce extremism and, in the end, anti-Americanism.

The US isn't simply meddling in the middle east, it supports the very people it acknowledges (at least sometimes) are a large part of the problem. Always, the fear is that bad as the Saudis or Mubarak are they could be replaced by something much, much worse. And so, in any objective view, the US errs on the side of repression. Hell, it's even happy to send people to be tortured by the Egyptians and any number of other grisly types.

All Great Powers are hypocrites but it's naive to be offended or hurt or surprised by the fact that other people are themselves offended and angered by your hypocrisy. Those people remain responsible for their actions but Washington's support for the status quo means that it disappoints almost everyone.

It may well be that there are few palatable alternatives. Something worse might well follow. And so we remain locked into a strategy that seems unlikely to produce victory and may only be capable of stalling for time. Just like Afghanistan really. In the case of Iran's nukes there are no appealling options either not least since much of what the west does to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons (or from being able to exploit its capability) may well hamper its efforts to make progress in other areas of Persian policy.

The west can't, I suspect, do much to assist the reformist movement inside Iran except, that is, take decisions that help the regime tighten its grip still further. In that respect every step forward on the nuclear question may mean a step back on the regime question. And, of course, vice versa.