Whatever he tells the UN, Rouhani will not agree to give up nuclear weapons to please his country’s nuclear-armed enemies. And when it’s clear that he won’t, it’s his enemies who will face humiliation.
I don’t believe Rouhani means it when he says Iran doesn’t want nuclear weapons. And even if he does, I don’t believe the supreme leader, Khamenei, would back him up, nor would the Iranian political/military establishment, nor would a very large proportion of the Iranian public, maybe a majority, maybe a large majority. Why shouldn’t Iran want nuclear weapons? Every major power and would-be major power wants nuclear weapons; look at the ones who’ve got them. The present nuclear powers don’t want to nuke anybody, if for no other reason than that they don’t want to be nuked in return. (If Japan or one of its allies had had nukes in World War II, there would have been no Hiroshima and Nagasaki.) Ambitious countries want nukes for protection and for the prestige they bring.
This, I believe, is why Iran wants them, too, and this is one of the reasons I don’t think Iran will hand them over, even under terrible economic pressure from sanctions. But the main reason I don’t see Iran giving up its nuclear program is because it would be a colossal humiliation – letting enemy countries with nuclear weapons, including one that actually used them on two cities, force Iran to wash its hands of them, and after all these decades of work and expense and hope and pride, after all these decades of saying no to America, Israel, Britain and the like. There’s no way I can see Iran doing it – and I’m one of those who think Iran is a rational country, one that would not nuke Israel or any other country if only because it doesn’t want to get annihilated in return. Those others who think Iran has to be stopped because it is irrational, yet who at the same time believe it will humiliate itself so abjectly before its nuclear-armed enemies by defanging its own nuclear program – these people, and there are many, beginning with Benjamin Netanyahu, are the real irrational actors in this story.
If it were up to me, I would say: If the Iranians want to build nuclear weapons, let them. If they use them against us, they’re dead. If they give them to some floating terrorist group that uses them against us, they’re still dead, along with lots of their neighbors. That’s our deterrent against Iran and against the terrorist groups. It’s the sort of deterrent that’s kept nuclear peace all this time, even when Stalin and Mao had the bomb, and there’s no reason to think it won’t work with Iran and its friends, too. Nobody wants his civilization wiped out. There’s no need to go to war with Iran, and it’s a little insane to see war as a way of keeping nuclear weapons out of the hands of our enemies throughout the decades and centuries to come.
But it’s not up to me, or to those who agree with me, to decide how to deal with Iran; that’s up to the leaders of the world, and evidently they can’t say that the way to deal with Iran’s nuclear program is to just relax. They have to do something. They have to show that they’re alert, and on guard, and resolute, and determined. They’re leaders, and by God they have to act like it. And none of them, except Netanyahu, really has any heart for going to war with Iran, but they still have to show that they mean business or they’ll look like wusses, so they come up with these sanctions. And not just sanctions, but sanctions that bite! Crippling sanctions! How’s that for leadership?
Now if the Iranians cry uncle and agree to downsize their nuclear program and allow inspections to the point that they couldn’t make weapons even if they wanted to, then the West and Israel can claim victory. If Iran agrees to be grandly humiliated by the Great Satan, the Little Satan and all the other, intermediate Satans, it’s mission accomplished.
But if Iran doesn’t agree? If Iran insists on going nuclear, or even gaining and staying within quick, easy access of going nuclear, then it will be Iran’s enemies, the leaders of the so-called free world who, after decades of talking tough, will be monumentally humiliated. Can the president of the United States allow that? Can the leaders of Europe? (With Netanyahu, it’s a different story; in his mind it’s more than humiliation, it’s allowing a second Holocaust.)
Ironically, now that Rouhani is sounding conciliatory, it’s harder than ever for people to say out loud that the world can live with a nuclear Iran. The attitude is: “If the Iranian president says he doesn’t want nukes, you’re going to tell him it’s okay, he can build them? What, do you want the Iranians to have nuclear weapons in their hands? No, if the Iranian president is going to tell the UN, ‘Our national interests make it imperative that we remove any and all reasonable concerns about Iran’s peaceful nuclear program,’ let’s take him up on it. Let’s hold his feet to the fire.”
The “containment camp” on Iran seems to have folded its tent. Everybody’s tough now, everybody’s determined, determined not to be made a fool of. There is no cowardice as dangerous, and as common, as the the cowardice that stops you from saying something that might get you called a coward.