United States should stay out of Iran’s nuclear business

obamadroneObama’s presidency has been a busy one for American interventionism.

His administration has overseen a costly troop surge in Afghanistan, a disastrous police action in Libya, and an unprecedented campaign of drone warfare across Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. With the largest military budget since World War II, the president has kept US forces stationed in over 150 countries around the world. This includes a contingent of 28,000 troops protecting the Korean border – 6,000 more than the number of agents employed by the entire border patrol of the United States.  

With our national debt climbing beyond $16.5 trillion, one might expect our government to scale back its litany of overseas entanglements and look inward. In fact, according to a January 2011 Gallup poll, more Americans favor cutting foreign aid than any other area of spending. Our government, however, seems to think that America is still not policing the world enough.

In his January 2012 State of the Union address, President Obama announced that “America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and I will take no options off the table to achieve that goal.” Although it’s been just over a year since U.S. troops completed their withdrawal from Iraq, our policymakers apparently have short memories. We may now be closer than ever before to the fulfillment of the president’s Iran threat.

Earlier this month, the White House announced that President Obama will soon meet with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to discuss the “enduring bonds between the United States and Israel.” Israeli officials, however, told The Daily Telegraph that the president’s trip will actually focus on Iran. “The deal … may be on the subject of war, not of peace,” said a diplomat in a February 6 article. Moreover, the U.S. ratcheted up sanctions against Iran the day after the trip was announced.

The Administration makes these sanctions sound noble enough. They are intended to punish human rights abuses and defend “basic freedoms of expression, assembly and speech.” Yet, throughout human history, sanctions have abjectly failed to do anything of the kind. The Greek playwright Aristophanes, for example, argued that sanctions imposed by the Athenian Empire triggered the great Peloponnesian War in which Athens was smashed. Likewise, the US embargo against Cuba has clearly failed to unseat the Castro dictatorship for over 50 years.

Sure enough, even with sanctions against it now more stringent than ever, the New York Times reports that Iran has become an international marketplace. In Tehran, Chinese contractors are building multilevel highways, Samsung and LG billboards abound, and “it seems as if new restaurants and fast food joints are opening up every day, and never lacking for customers.” Our government’s futile new sanctions, then, may have less to do with advancing human rights and more to do with signaling to Israel that we are ready to act on its behalf.  

The US and Israel, like many states around the world, certainly have some overlapping interests. It warrants remembering, however, that Israel is not the 51st state in the Union. Israel, like the US, is a sovereign nation with its own unique goals — and they are not always identical to ours. Protecting Israel’s status as the sole nuclear power in the region should not itself be a compelling reason to go to war. If Americans do not heed George Washington’s advice to “act for ourselves and not for others,” Iran may become the straw that breaks the back of our weary empire, and we may go the way of every power that has walked our path before us.

Granted, there are still those that claim Iran, should it become a nuclear power, would immediately commit national suicide by obliterating all of Israel and the Palestinian Territories along with it. This fatuous assumption dates back to 2005, when a remark by Ahmadinejad about Israel was mistranslated as “wiped off the map”, an English idiom. Juan Cole, a professor of Middle Eastern History at the University of Michigan, has said that “Ahmadinejad did not say he was going to ‘wipe Israel off the map’ because no such idiom exists in Persian. He did say he hoped its regime… would collapse”.

Moreover, Ahmadinejad himself has posed an interesting question. “Let’s even imagine that we have an atomic weapon,” he said. “What would we do with it? What intelligent person would fight 5,000 American bombs with one bomb?”

I hate to say it, but he has a good point.

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