This is a two-part series examining what US policy toward Iran should look like. Please note that these ideas are not entirely my own; I have taken great influence from international relations giants like John Mearsheimer, Stephen Walt, and Kenneth Waltz.
Rand Paul has been vocally supportive of economic sanctions against Iran. Last week, he stated, “I have voted for Iranian sanctions in the hope of preventing war and allowing for diplomacy.” Unfortunately, what Paul is missing is that it is in US interest for Iran to have the bomb.
Before exploring why, let’s examine the three alternative options that the US is currently pursuing:
We, the Western community, sanction them to hell.
If you look at a history of states looking to acquire nuclear weapons, sanctions have not ever deterred them. If nothing else, sanctions will make Iran feel more threatened and thus more hostile. It will also increase the poverty level within Iran. Statistically, poor, desperate people make pretty awesome terrorist recruits. Nobody wants that.
We allow Iran to build nuclear facilities but not an actual nuke.
Unfortunately, the nuclear weapons that Iran is interested in can be made very, very quickly, so if avoiding a physical bomb will satiate the US and Western Europe, Israel will still feel threatened by the inevitability of a bomb being made. This will lead to escalation of tension in the Middle East vis-à-vis Stuxnet’s progeny and perhaps even physical violence. Nobody wants that either.
We bomb Iran because we can.
Hell, why don’t we just nuke them? If you look at the physical outlay of Iran and where they have their centrifuges, our best bet is to just nuke the whole country (seriously, it’ll cost a lot less and we’ll be out of there much faster). Here’s why: if you took all of Iran’s enriched uranium—all of it—you could fit it into a 3′x3′ box no bigger than a yard by a yard. That is so easy to hide (and the United States doesn’t exactly have a strong history of finding small things, like a specific terrorist, quickly).
Not only that, but most of Iranian facilities are underground. That means that aerial strikes could take out a facility for an estimated maximum of three weeks because these centers are so easy to rebuild. Intervening in Iran without nukes would take a full ground force. Think about the cost of the War on Terror and then think about how long we would have to be in Iran until they give up their nuclear program due to a war of attrition. No, thank you.
Currently, the policy choices that have been pursued don’t look so great. I would like to present a fourth option: rebuild relations with Iran and allow them to have the bomb.
One major reason that Americans are so fearful of Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon is because we have this misperception that Iranian leadership is irrational. This is based on a misunderstanding of how states work in the international system; while we might not understand their domestic politics (gays don’t exist there… right?), their foreign policy is likely very predictable. They have shown no sign of self-destruction, so it would be a real error for policymakers to assume otherwise (I’m looking at you, Rand Paul and neo-conservatives).
Given that Iran wants to continue existing as a country, policymakers can safely assume that Iran plans to use this weaponry for defensive purposes given nuclear second-strike capabilities; if Iran uses their nukes, the United States and Israel will flatten them. Iranian leadership undoubtedly knows this. So what motivates Iran for developing its nuclear programs, especially given its high costs? They want second-strike capabilities too. They want to deter any kind of hostile invasion with the threat of nuclear war. It’s for defense.