Monday, August 15, 2005

Farsi Fission Freakout

Sit down class. Question one: why are the Iranians allegedly chasing a nuclear bomb? No Bush the Younger, not because they are 'evildoers'- you haven't been paying attention at all these past four years, have you? Well, for all of you who want to know more about the subject but don't have the time to wade through acres of paper or megabytes of websites, Professor Wisdom W. Weasel is here with his own highly speculative and mildly researched Q&A on the Iranian nuclear program. Read on at your own peril.

Q. Why is your map funny colors?
A. Because good maps that show the specific part of the world we are talking about are hard to pinch off the net.

Q. So why this map then?
A. Well, if you look in the bottom left-center, you'll find Iran. Look left and there's Iraq. Further left but off the map is nuclear armed Israel. To the right is Afghanistan and to the north the former central asian republics of the old Soviet Union. Further to the right of the map are three nuclear armed powers; Pakistan, India, and China. To the north is nuclear armed Russia, but you have to get through Chechnya and a couple of other unstable crazy towns to get there. Oh, and not shown on the map but stradling northern Iran, Iraq, and Turkey are the largest ethnic group in the world without a dedicated country, the Kurds.

Q. So what?
A. Well, the key to understanding Iran's desire to become a nuclear power can be found in the geo-political situation it finds itself in. Hence the map.

Q. Gigga-wha?
A. No, geo-politics. What makes Iran unique?

Q. Now you are asking me questions?
A. Yes.

Q. The wine 'Chardonnay' is named after its former king?
A. Nice guess, but wrong spelling of 'shah'. No, Iran is the only majority shia muslim country in the world governed by members of that sect. Iraq is majority shia, but should they ever finish writing a constitution in that poor, benightened country the shia will most likely have been pressured into playing nice with their kurdish and sunni compatriots resulting in a tripartate government structure about as stable as the one enshrined in the Lebanese constitution (but that's another Q&A).

Q. Big whupp.
A. Sarcasm does not suit you. Iran has a justifiable degree of paranoia about being surrounded by sunni dominated countries, given that no less an authority than the wahabbi sect of sunni Islam that predominates in our 'ally' Saudi Arabia, the Pakistani military intelligence arm, and Al Qadea condemns shi'ites as apostates. Between the 16th and the mid 18th century England faced similar challenges and fears as the most prominent Protestant nation adrift on a sea of militant and armed Catholicism, so the world has seen this kind of thing before.

Q. So the Iranians want nukes to protect themselves from the sunnis?
A. In part, but that would be too easy and explanation.

Q. -Groan-
A. Iran is on the periphery of the upcoming superpower tug-of-war of the 21st Century-

Q. The USA and China?
A. Actually, China and India. Now bitter economic rivals, with ideological differences in spades, India and China have already had a couple of shooting run-ins up around their shared border (back in the 60s or 70s China siezed control of a chunk of disputed territory from India; a sub-continental Alsace-Lorraine a la France's beef with Germany from 1870 to 1918). Both seek to be the voice of Asia in this new century and have aspirations to punch in their weight class in international institutions. China's concerns about India run deep- to the extent of maintaining a strategic relationship with India's blood enemy Pakistan (Pakistani arms shipments into their 'strategic depth' neighbor Afghanistan during the war with the Soviets ran along the 'Sino-Pak' highway over Chinese laid asphalt. The Pakistani military supported the Afghan muj for religious, ethnic, and security reasons; the Soviets were arming India, the muj trained Kashmiri militants to bleed India, and a stable, fundamentalist Afghanistan ruled by Pakistan's Pashtun kin gave Islamabad room to retreat and still fight if attacked by Indian conventional forces. This is why Pakistan backed the horrifically stabilizing Taleaban). India and China are nuclear powers, as is China's potential ally Pakistan.

Q. So Iran wants nukes in order to join the aspirant superpower dance?
A. Well, maybe. But more likely its in order to force its eastern neighbors to think about Iran when carving up the map and before they decide to throw their weight around like European powers in the late 19th century. For some reason the mullahs believe that Iran, its oil, and its quirky version of islam will be at risk should China and India start jockeying for position, or should Pakistan's current government be replaced by sunni extremists, or should the Taleaban continue their rebirth.

Q. But isn't Iran an extremist supporter of terrorism? What do they have to fear from other islamic extremists?
A. Undoubtedly. But the weird thing is- and I never thought I'd have to say this kind of thing- a state sponsor of terrorism is a much less dangerous beast than an ideological franchise like Al Qadea. Along with spreading the islamic revolution laid out by Kohmeni (more akin actually to Stalin's 'Socialism in One Country' concept than the internationalism of Leon Trotsky), the mullahs have a country to run, an economy to grow, and a population to keep quiet. To the latter end, a nuclear program appeals to Iranian nationalism and deflects attention from internal woes onto external enemies, but the post-Shah Iran is a mature society lacking the white heat of revolution (their war with Iraq put paid to much of that). Like everywhere else, Iranians are more concerned with their economic well being than with continuously emulating the prophet's march on Mecca. With my suposition that their desire to aquire nuclear weapons is a form of insurance, I dont see them giving a suitcase nuke to their proxy Hizbollah to use on Israel or America- something tells me that Tehran would be vaporized in response. Non-state actors like bin Laden don't have those worries. Also, when you operate out of a cave paying for things from your own private fortune you can expend energy on multiple enemies- the USA, Europe, Israel, and those you consider deviants from your own religion. Now, bin Laden wouldn't worry about an Iranian nuclear strike, but the governments or tribal leaders who shelter him most certainly would.

Q. So you are suggesting that an nuclear armed Iran would make us safer from Al Qadea?
A. Not for a second. But the Iranian government believes it would make them safer from a multitude of threats, That they believe that doesn't make them right, but nobody said world leaders had a monopoly on clear headed rationalism.

Q. What about the threat to us or to Israel?
A. First, I refer you to the last but one answer. They could try to hit Israel, but won't for the same reason the Soviets never nuked us- MAD. Also, the Iranians lack a suitable delivery system to hit the USA, or even Europe. Like Iraq, the best they will be able to muster is a homegrown variant on the Scud, or some piece of shoddy North Korean or Chinese missile kit. Do you think a North Korean missile delivery technology is going to make it undetected through the espionage cordon around the penninsula? China could be a problem- they need access to oil and might be induced to trade. But should an Iranian missile be seen atop a Chinese delivery system in a parade or spy-photo be prepared for a distinct cooling of cooperation economically and over Taiwan, China's priority number one. As for weakening our interests and friends, the Iranians have pretty much had a free ride for their proxy terrorism since the eighties (in Lebanon, Kofar Towers, Hizbollah, hijackings, etc) and have calmed things down since the end of the first Iraq War. As for Iraq itself, the Iranians don't need nukes- they have a carefully built and deep running connection with significant elements of the shia majority that means they can conduct policy subtly and through third parties in order to try and look out for their interests.

Q. So why are we freaked out?
A. Because any new country getting nukes is a serious issue. Things go wrong; coups happen. And limiting nukes is generally considered to be a good idea. Besides (and can you really claim to be surprised?) Iran appears to be talking out of both sides of its mouth claiming to negotiate to the outside world while telling Iranians it was only playing for time; suggesting that the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei issued anti-nuclear weapons fatwas and loudly protesting their innocence while not really offering any convincing reasons as to why they need nuclear power.

Q. So what can we do? Are we going to go to war with Iran?
A. Part one of your question- there is a real case for the USA to step back and to pressure China into using its economic leverage and assumed regional clout (given their increasing economic relationship with Iran and their energy resources; relationships the USA chose to forgo through sanctions. Additionally, the Chinese aren't seen as responsible for maintaining the repressive regime of the Shah for decades. Imagine the British asking George Washington to not to build warships in the aftermath of the American Revolution while calling him an evil arsehole and you can imagine how well received American overtures are in Terhan. Notice they called America alone the "Great Satan", not western culture in general). Indeed, this week's The Economist suggests the very same thing, with the added bonus that a nuclear negotiator China could probably squeeze North Korea. As for part two, it all depends on what those maniacs in the Bush Administration had for breakfast.

Q. Is that it then?
A. I guess- you are the one asking the questions. Are you done?

Yeah, Sportscenter is on.

Professor Wisdom W. Weasel welcomes further questions and peer review (especially by his esteemed colleague Brooklyn Jim). That is if you read this far, you ADHD sport obsessed, insular bastards. Elk nipples! Just checking to see if you made it to the bottom


Listmaker said...

i like how you call us sports obsessed right before your post about your football writings caught my eye.

this post is amazing though. and i wonder if you wisdom weasel online could have a q and a session like this that could make sense of my inner psyche.

weasel said...

That would be work produced under another psuedonym. I take no responsibility for which ever of my personalities is insulting everyone day to day.

Thanks for the props. I like to do this every now and then to a) keep my hand in and b) to show my parents that my choice of degree subject wasn't just a self-indulgent effort to identify with Richard Burton (the explorer, not the actor) and T.E. Lawrence.

As for psychoanalysis, next time you come to Maine I'll take you over to Wilhelm Reich's place in Rangeley so that you can have your orgone accumulated. We can then post the results. I'm sure the spirit of my favorite insane Austrian psychoanalyist exiled to Maine can see you right.

mactechwitch said...

Well I'm pretty impressed. I'm a late comer to your blog WW. I didn't realize how erudite the company my BKLYN blog-pals kept.
In '89 and '90, during Bush I's Desert Storm Extravaganza, I served as director of the school division where I (and the many blog pals afore-mentioned) teach.
At a faculty meeting one Wednesday afternoon, I passed out a blank map, similar to the one that heads your post, and asked teachers to see how many countries they could fill in before we got on to our real business of why can't we have Triscuits instead of Hi-Hos at snack time.
The sad results of the map exercise will not be mentioned.
Triscuits for Warheads!

weasel said...

Thanks Maureen; I have been green with envy at your vacation spot.

As Mondale can testify I've always been a bit of a traditionalist and wary of new ideas (esp. in education techniques) but more than ever I see the need for integrated humanities teaching- you can't understand literature without understanding history; you can't understand history without a grasp of geography, etc, etc. Still, for all the hype about how thick each generation is, we still seem to muddle through (and for the Brits who get sniffy about American's grasp of geography, let me point out that I can find Syria on a map but am buggered to point out exactly where Dundee on a map, or name all the counties in England. It is all contextual).