Tuesday, February 09, 2010

iran's two-edged bomb

NYTimes | WITH Iran having notified the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency on Monday that any day now it will begin enriching its stockpile of uranium in order to power a medical reactor, we should admit that Washington’s approach to countering the Islamic Republic is leading nowhere. What’s needed, however, may be less of a change of plan than a change in how we view the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran.

Believe it or not, there are some potential benefits to the United States should Iran build a bomb. (I’m speaking for myself here, and in no way for the Air Force.) Five possibilities come to mind.

First, Iran’s development of nuclear weapons would give the United States an opportunity to finally defeat violent Sunni-Arab terrorist groups like Al Qaeda. Here’s why: a nuclear Iran is primarily a threat to its neighbors, not the United States. Thus Washington could offer regional security — primarily, a Middle East nuclear umbrella — in exchange for economic, political and social reforms in the autocratic Arab regimes responsible for breeding the discontent that led to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Until now, the Middle East autocracies have refused to change their ways because they were protected by the wealth of their petroleum reserves. A nuclear Iran alters the regional dynamic significantly, and provides some leverage for us to demand reforms.

Second, becoming the primary provider of regional security in a nuclear Middle East would give the United States a way to break the OPEC cartel. Forcing an end to the sorts of monopolistic practices that are illegal in the United States would be the price of that nuclear shield, bringing oil prices down significantly and saving billions of dollars a year at the pump. Or, at a minimum, President Obama could trade security for increased production and a lowering of global petroleum prices.

Third, Israel has made clear that it feels threatened by Iran’s nuclear program. The Palestinians also have a reason for concern, because a nuclear strike against Israel would devastate them as well. This shared danger might serve as a catalyst for reconciliation between the two parties, leading to the peace agreement that has eluded the last five presidents. Paradoxically, any final agreement between Israelis and Palestinians would go a long way to undercutting Tehran’s animosity toward Israel, and would ease longstanding tensions in the region.

Fourth, a growth in exports of weapons systems, training and advice to our Middle Eastern allies would not only strengthen our current partnership efforts but give the American defense industry a needed shot in the arm.

With the likelihood of austere Pentagon budgets in the coming years, Boeing has been making noise about shifting out of the defense industry, which would mean lost American jobs and would also put us in a difficult position should we be threatened by a rising military power like China. A nuclear Iran could forestall such a catastrophe.