Why is Iran so bent on confronting the United States over nuclear weapons?
Don't Panic ... Your War Questions Answered
The growing tension between Iran and the U.S. scares me.
In one corner, you've got a powerful nation led by a beady-eyed religious fanatic whose boorish nationalism and belligerent speeches scare the crap out of most of the civilized world.
In the other corner, you've got Iran.
Iran is developing nuclear weapons. The country's leaders deny it. They say that they're just developing the technology to enrich uranium for power production. For all practical purposes, however, "developing nuclear weapons" and "developing the technology to enrich uranium for power production" are the same thing. Allow me to drop some mad science on yo ass and explain.
Iran has nuclear reactors. We know that. Everybody knows that. Reactors use low-level enriched uranium as fuel. Like other countries that don't make their own low-level enriched uranium, Iran imports it from other countries. Iran says that it wants to enrich its own uranium simply as a step toward self-sufficiency.
The problem is that the devices used to make low-level enriched uranium are the same devices used to make the high-level enriched uranium found in nuclear weapons. Once Iran has the ability to enrich uranium, the only things stopping it from building a nuke would be responsibility, decency and moderation. Ever since Iran's murderous, theocratic leaders seized control of the country more than a quarter-century ago, those three words are seldom associated with the government in Tehran.
Iran voluntarily suspended most (but probably not all) of its uranium enrichment activities in 2004 and 2005 while it negotiated with a diplomatic delegation from France, Germany and Britain (known collectively as the EU3).
The EU3 did an admirable of job of trying to get Iran to give up its enrichment ambitions, but the effort failed. Iran resumed its nuclear enrichment regime earlier this month.
The EU3 effort actually was doomed from the outset. Why? Because the EU3 is a bunch of cheese-eating, wine-drinking pansies with a name that makes them seem like a boy band?
No, but good guess.
Actually, the EU3 effort failed because neither England, France nor Germany has any bargaining leverage with Iran. They can't give Iran what it wants, nor can they take away much of what it needs.
What does Iran want? Security. Remember how Bush used to go on about how Iran is part of an "Axis of Evil"? Iran remembers, too. Its leaders also have noticed that Republican talking heads — some influential, some less-so — like to talk and write about who should be next in the queue for regime change after Afghanistan and Iraq.
A Bush administration attempt at regime change in Iran wouldn't be the first time the United States has tried that move. In 1953, the CIA toppled Iran's last real democratic leader and replaced him with a pro-American king, Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi. The Islamic revolution that put the current jackasses in power in 1979 was, in large part, the explosive backlash against the jackass that the U.S. put in power in 1953.
Iran's leaders also are very aware that the United States has significant military forces in three countries (Iraq, Afghanistan and Turkey) that share land borders with Iran. In addition, the U.S. has bases in more than a half-dozen nearby Arab and central Asian nations, all of which put Iran within easy striking distance of U.S. forces. Iran wants nuclear weapons as insurance that the U.S. won't try a regime change.
Fear of a nuclear response effectively has kept us from messing with North Korea. Iran has noticed that, too.
The situation is more complex than that, though. Iran also is interested in standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Israel, the Middle East's only nuclear power and its dominant conventional military power. A nuclear-armed Iran would shift the balance of power in the Middle East.
That's a big topic for another column.