Careful: Sanity May Be Catching
Christopher Hitchens -- yes, Christopher Hitchens! -- on the prospect of a nuclear Iran:
(Via Matt B.)
Assume that the Iranians are within measurable distance of nuclear status. Appearances sometimes to the contrary, they are not mad—or not clinically insane in the way that Saddam Hussein was and Kim Jong-il is. The recent fuss about the obliteration of Israel is largely bullshit: ... These people (who once bought weapons from Israel via Oliver North in order to fight Saddam Hussein) are cynical and corrupt. They know as well as you do what would happen if they tried to nuke Israel or the United States. They want the bomb as insurance against invasion and as a weapon of strategic ambiguity to shore up their position in the region.And a very, very good one. Given Hitchens' execrable performance over the last several years, you have no idea how much it pains me to say that.
But they have a crucial vulnerability on the inside. The overwhelmingly young population—an ironic result of the mullahs' attempt to increase the birth rate after the calamitous war with Iraq—is fed up with medieval rule. Unlike the hermetic societies of Baathist Iraq and North Korea, Iran has been forced to permit a lot of latitude to its citizens. A huge number of them have relatives in the West, access to satellite dishes and cell phones, and regular contact with neighboring societies. ... Opinion polling is a new science in Iran, but several believable surveys have shown that a huge majority converges on one point: that it is time to resume diplomatic relations with the United States. ...
So, picture if you will the landing of Air Force One at Imam Khomeini International Airport. The president emerges, reclaims the U.S. Embassy in return for an equivalent in Washington and the un-freezing of Iran's financial assets, and announces that sanctions have been a waste of time and have mainly hurt Iranian civilians. (He need not add that they have also given some clerics monopoly positions in various black markets; the populace already knows this.) A new era is possible, he goes on to say. America and the Shiite world have a common enemy in al-Qaida, just as they had in Slobodan Milosevic, the Taliban, and the Iraqi Baathists. America is home to a large and talented Iranian community. Let the exchange of trade and people and ideas begin! There might perhaps even be a ticklish-to-write paragraph, saying that America is not proud of everything it is has done in the past—most notably Jimmy Carter's criminal decision to permit Saddam to invade Iran.
The aging mullahs might claim this as a capitulation, which would be hard to bear. But how right would they be? The pressure for a new constitution and genuine elections is already building. Within less than a decade, we might be negotiating with a whole new generation of Iranians. Iran would have less incentive to disrupt progress in Iraq (and we should not forget that it has been generally not unhelpful in Afghanistan). Eventually, Iran might have a domestic nuclear program (to which it is fully entitled and which would decrease its oil-dependency) and be ready to sign a nonproliferation agreement with enforceable and verifiable provisions. American technical help would be available for this, since it was we who (in a wonderful moment of Kissingerian "realism") helped them build the Bushehr reactor in the first place.
Just a thought.
(Via Matt B.)