It's an amazing thing to see supposedly serious Republican pundits insist that the option of bombing Iran to stop its nuclear weapons program is not a partisan idea. No, it will only "help" President Obama's foreign policy platform of nonproliferation and multi-national engagement. That's what Eliott Abrams, former deputy national security advisor to GW Bush, would like us to believe, in this continuing series in The Atlantic on the dialogue that started with Jeffrey Goldberg's suggestion that Israel will bomb Iran, if the U.S. government doesn't get there first.
Jeffrey quotes Denis McDonough on the "serious threat to the global nonproliferation regime," but this is an understatement. If Iran acquires a nuclear weapon during his tenure, Obama would -- in his own eyes -- see the UN Security Council's resolutions made a mockery, the International Atomic Energy Agency transformed into a joke, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty come to an end. Multilateralism a la Obama would be finished, for Iran would have proved the "international community" to be toothless or non-existent. So if the president means what he has repeatedly said about world affairs, what is at stake is whether he leaves a legacy of disaster -- again, in his own eyes. In my eyes, he would be right in so concluding: the real issue in the Middle East today is whether we, the United States, will remain "top country" in the region or will allow Iran to claim some form of hegemony.
The political side of all this is equally plain. Obama will, by all accounts, suffer a tremendous setback in November and may well be defeated in 2012. Should Iran acquire the Bomb in the next two years -- the timetable Jeffrey suggests -- Republicans will have an even stronger case that Obama has weakened our national security. The Obama who had struck Iran and destroyed its nuclear program would be a far stronger candidate, and perhaps an unbeatable one. Now, from my perspective that is no reason to stop Iran's nuclear program, but I'm a Republican.
I want to quickly slide past the disingenuous "hey, Obama would be smart if he acted like a Republican" tone of the article - it's insultingly transparent, but hey, he's a Republican. The Atlantic already has a response to Abrams' idea that bombing Iran would boost Obama's re-election odds (not a hard argument to make). And certainly the QDR 2010 and the QDR independent panel's reports reflect the position that Dems also reinforce the US" super-cop" role. I want to comment on the amazing idea that, if Iran were to develop a nuclear bomb years from now, this reflects a failure of the non-proliferation regime and the United Nations, and would render the idea of multi-nationalism "toothless or non-existent." It perhaps goes to the Republican idea that international engagement is a waste of time, that if the United States does anything on the world stage, the rest of the world will follow.
The non-proliferation community has actually been remarkably successful. It caused the (eventual) elimination of chemical and biological weapons from most major nations' military stockpiles and at the least, has made it a pariah act to think about employing them. In addition to reducing nuclear weapons stockpiles in Russia and the United States, we've seen only four nations join the Big Five as nuclear-weapon owning states. Odds were, during the Cold War, that the number would be between 20 or 30 nations with nuclear weapons right now. The United Nations may not be a perfect institute, but it's acted as the basis for developing international norms on arms control as well as supporting investigations of nations suspected of developing or possessing NBC weapons (see Iraq, Bush failure to listen to UNMOVIC).
Non-proliferation organizations and the community at large was never intended to play the role of a sheriff. They can't enforce any decision on any nation - they can only encourage compliance within a set of protocols to which a large group of nations have agreed. That's all they should do - then it's up to individual nations to determine what's in their best interest. This Republican idea that, if you can't threaten a state with preventive strikes, foreign policy is not worth anything is just ridiculous. But time and time again, we see Republicans such as Abrams "concerned" that the Democrats could be doing so much better - if they just acted like neocons. Thanks, Elliot, but no thanks.