Special Report

As Iran Goes, So Goes the Third World

Some in Washington and the EU are resigned to a nuclear Iran. And that's good news for Burma.

By 2.23.06

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Some things are inevitable, like wrinkles and French anti-Americanism. We may as well add a nuclear Iran to the list. Each day more analysts, pundits and editorial page writers are coming round to the conclusion that the U.S. and its Western allies have accepted the idea of a nuclear Iran.

But if a thermonuclear Iran is a given, what's to prevent the rest of the Middle East from hopping aboard the plutonium bomb wagon? Certainly if Iran can afford nukes, so too can Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Venezuela. Finances may not even be the issue. Did wretched economies prevent Pakistan and North Korea -- one of the world's poorest countries -- from developing nukes? So what's to stop Yemen?

Now an article in Slate hints that Burma, with its newly discovered natural gas deposits, is also looking to join the nine-member Nuclear Club. Burma, it is generally acknowledged, has the world's most paranoid leadership -- and that's saying a lot when you consider how paranoid Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and Cuba's Fidel Castro are. In anticipation of the inevitable U.S. invasion, the Burmese government has reportedly moved its capital to a mountain redoubt in the Burmese jungle interior, protected by a perimeter of bargain-basement landmines. Once the Burmese begin selling natural gas, they will join Venezuela, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the growing list of psychotic governments holding the world hostage with their oil and gas supplies. (Come to think of it, if Cuba had oil there wouldn't be that silly embargo on Habana Cohibas, and I wouldn't have to smuggle them in from Toronto in my shorts.)

And that's just the beginning of the end. As more third-world thugocracies acquire nukes, it is only a matter of time before they share them with their partners in crime in Hamas, Hezbollah, and al Qaeda. "It used to be that when a country joined the nuclear club, they suddenly decided that it was just large enough, and they didn't want to help anyone else join," Paul Wolfowitz told an interviewer not long ago. "...Now we have countries joining the nuclear missile club who say 'the more the merrier.' North Korea is out selling its dangerous technology to anyone who wants to spend the money to buy it."

SOME OF THIS PESSIMISTIC talk is simply the usual anti-Bush and anti-Iraq War line. Some is anger at Bush and the Neocons over what is perceived to be a pointless war in Iraq, when Iran was the real threat all along. Now American troops it is argued are stretched too thin, and U.S. credibility too weak to deal with the Tehran threat. But how much of this is accurate? And how willing is the U.S. to do whatever it takes to keep nukes out of Tehran's dirty hands? And finally, how willing are the American people to accept skyrocketing gas prices as Iranian oil supplies dry up?

It should be obvious by now that negotiating with President Mahmoud "Holocaust? What Holocaust?" Ahmadinejad is fruitless. After all, why should Tehran negotiate, except as a delaying tactic while it puts the finishing touches on its nuclear program? In the meantime Iran's leaders grow more and more confident that the U.S. will not intervene militarily. One, because Iran is convinced that the international community will not support an invasion, particularly U.N. Security Council members Russia and China. Two, because Iran will threaten to shut off already strained oil supplies to the West. Three, because Iran is no Iraq. It is roughly three times larger; its two-dozen suspected nuclear sites are spread across the country; its troops are more willing to fight. The Iranians won't simply lay down their weapons, as did the Iraqis. Four, because Iran recognizes there is little appetite in the U.S. for a ground war, particularly with mid-term elections eight months away. Five, because a U.S. attack would make the cartoon intifada look like the Hollins' Spring Cotillion.

So Iran would seem to be holding all the cards, right?

Well, not necessarily all the cards. The U.S. still has air strike capability. Granted, air strikes might not get all of Iran's uranium-enrichment sites, but they will slow down research and production; more important they will send a message to the rest of the world's tin pot dictatorships that the U.S. will not be held hostage by oil and gas suppliers, and, more important, that the U.S. is not going to allow another non-democratic country to develop nukes, no matter how dug in it is in the Amazonian jungle or the peaks of Southeast Asia. So don't even waste your time.

FORTUNATELY, EVEN IF THE U.S. caves in to Iranian blackmail there is still Israel. "Israel cannot allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons," the country's acting prime minister Ehud Olmert said recently. Now the Guardian reports that Israel has "drawn up plans for strikes against Iran's nuclear facilities with bunker busting bombs supplied by the U.S." But while Israel may be willing to attack if American will is lacking, its strikes will not have the deterring effect that a U.S. strike would. Burma, for instance, will not be deterred from its nuclear ambitions by fear of an Israeli invasion.

In the meantime U.S. Secretary of State Rice is in the Middle East promoting change from within, using cash to "develop support for Iranian reformers, political dissidents and human rights activists," and boosting Voice of America broadcasts. This worked in Poland and Czechoslovakia, Rice says. The trouble with Rice's strategy is that Iranian regime change could take decades, or longer. America doesn't have decades if Iran is determined to develop nukes, and perhaps share those with its terrorist brethren.

The U.S. and Israel would seem to have two options: take out Iran's suspected nuclear sites or accept a world where nukes are as common as houseflies. Americans are an optimistic and resourceful people, and nobody likes a doomsayer. So if anyone has an alternative plan, by all means, let's hear it.

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About the Author
Christopher Orlet writes from St. Louis.