Last week’s issue of the Standard featured an intense focus on Iran. Its front cover, editorial page, and letters all joined a chorus of American voices shouting bloody murder about the terrible evil that is spreading outward from Tehran. Make no mistake about it. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is no friend of America, Israel, or the West. But I wonder if we have blinders on. How many Americans realize that just to the east lie two other Islamic republics?
One, Afghanistan, has just suffered through, by all accounts, a rigged election. Oct. 7 marked the eight-year anniversary of the start of our military involvement there. The country remains in chaos, the Taliban are reported to be in resurgence, civilian deaths have risen along with troop levels, and Al-Qaeda is nowhere to be found. The other, Pakistan, is recovering from years of corrupt military rule and has an unstable government that does not control the mountain provinces in which Al Qaeda still festers. Together, they are just about the size of Iran and have more than 200 million people, compared to Iran’s 80 million.
What’s more, Pakistan has been a confirmed member of the nuclear weapons club since 1998. Its nuclear weapons program started in 1972. Pakistan has the sixth largest military force on earth, with 700,000 under arms. It possesses advanced delivery technology, with an air force and 12 missile systems. The current range is 2,500 km, and weapons are under development with range up to 4500 km. Its arsenal includes the nuclear-capable Babur cruise missile and an air-launched cruise missile system that extends the range of cruise missiles even further. Published military intelligence estimates are that the Pakistanis have 70 to 90 nuclear warheads. If these statistics scare us, they should.
My point is that a single-minded focus on Iran is not sufficient. And, the lessons of Russia’s experience in Afghanistan and American intervention in Iraq should not be ignored. Making war against ideology does not seem to have worked so far. As Einstein once said, the definition of insanity is repeating the same process over and over again and expecting a different outcome. So what can we do to produce or hope for a better outcome?
I am no pacifist. But in the interest of maintaining global security and avoiding real terror, the West and the world had better re-adjust their sights. In addition to dealing with Iran, the bigger picture on which progress may be possible is global nuclear non-proliferation. It was no accident that North Korea, Pakistan, and India joined the nuclear club at the point in time when the United States relaxed its commitment to the Non-Proliferation Treaty process. Recent developments between Russia and the United States are encouraging. If the true super-powers can agree to reduce their overwhelming superiority in nuclear weapons, then perhaps the Iranians and North Koreans can be persuaded to back away from their designs as well.
The ayatollahs may not admit it, but they know full well that if Iran decided to use a nuclear WMD, it would be a matter of minutes before the Iranian republic would be wiped off the face of the earth with a massive retaliation from the West. Do they wish to start World War III and in the process terminate their country’s existence? Are all of Iran’s leaders that insane? The news from Mohamed ElBaradei (director of the International Atomic Energy Agency) and Jim Jones (U.S. national security adviser) is encouraging. Iran seems to be more amenable to opening up for inspection. But the United States needs to keep the pressure up – not only on Iran, but also on the IAEA, Russia, and even ourselves to eliminate the true threat to global security – the demonstrated existence of massive numbers of nuclear weapons. In any case, worrying about one potential bomb in the future hands of Iran is a legitimate concern. But let’s also keep our eye on the wrecking balls that already exist in the hands of those other Islamic republics to the east.