Thursday, April 9, 2015

Maybe Winning the Cold War Was a Mixed Blessing

Critics of the nuclear agreement with Iran are getting truly deranged.  Dick Cheney is saying of Iran, "Obama's about to give them nuclear weapons."  Meanwhile Michelle Bachman says of Obama, “He has now guaranteed that Iran will have a nuclear weapon.”  And the worst of it is a whole lot of low information voters will undoubtedly believe them and think that the deal either gives Iran official permission to build a nuclear bomb or at least makes it much easier.

All right, let's take a deep breath and remember what the deal actual does.  It reduces Iran's number of uranium centrifuges from 19,000 to 6,104 and removes all the ones that enrich uranium more rapidly. It reduces Iran's stockpile of enriched uranium from 10,000 kg to 300 kg.  It shuts down Iran's plutonium reactor.  And, of course, it provides for extensive inspection to ensure that Iran is actually complying.  Admittedly, all these things will take time to accomplish.

To believe that this "guarantees" that Iran will have nuclear weapons, let along "gives" them nuclear weapons, one would have to believe that it is easier for Iran to build a nuclear bomb with 6,104 centrifuges, 300 kg enriched uranium and no plutonium reactor, all held with our agreement; than for it to build a nuclear bomb with 19,000 centrifuges, 10,000 kg enriched uranium and a plutonium reactor, all held without our agreement.  That is just plain nuts.

Before, I have suggested as possible explanations for this outlook (1) hawks believe that Iran is on the verge of collapse and will cave if we just hold out a little longer; (2) whether Iran gets a nuclear weapon or secondary, what is important is that we not be complicit in Iran's nuclear program; (3) Iran somehow won't be able to actually use its nuclear program to build a bomb so long as we don't condone its existence.

But I am increasingly beginning to think that winning the Cold War has been a mixed blessing for us because it leads hawks to believe that we can reduplicate the same results at will.  The hardline hawk viewpoint ignores that the Soviet Union endured over 70 years before its final collapse.  They ignore that the Cold War policies of containment and gradually wearing the Soviets down continued for over 40 years.  They ignore the continuity in our policy from Truman to Reagan.  They ignore the horror of hawks at the time when Reagan pursued diplomacy.  They just remember (1) Reagan talked tough and escalated the arms race, and (2) the Soviet Union fell, even though everyone had assumed that it would be around forever.  They concluded from this that all our enemies must be on the verge of collapse and if we just hang tough, they will all fall, too.  Sort of the reverse Munich.

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