by William F. Buckley Jr.
A sane and studious observer of the international scene
addressed the dinner guests and concluded his optimistic
analysis of our Iraqi venture with an arresting after-
thought. "What we will not be seeing, when President Bush
leaves office, is an Iran with a nuclear bomb."
Almost all discussion of pressing strategic concerns touches
down on Iran. The drumrolling on nuclear Iran makes it
retrospectively incredible that when Pakistan joined the
nuclear club, we simply heard about it, roughly speaking,
the day after they exploded one.
By contrast, Iran is almost
every week in the news on the matter of its determination
to have a bomb. Most recently there was a setback, when
Moscow declined to provide some of the help that Iran had
asked for. It was this development, in the opinion of some
analysts, that caused Tehran to agree to send a mission to
Baghdad to confer with our ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad.
This hardly means that Iran is ready to negotiate an end to
its nuclear development. Stephen Hadley, national security
adviser to the president, caught the spirit of U.S. reaction
to this development: "We're talking to Iran all the time.
We make statements, they make statements."
But repeated statements by the president on the matter
of U.S. concern over a nuclear-armed Iran bring up the
question: What do we intend to do about it if Iran,
departing from its bluster, adopts the Pakistani mode
and proceeds noiselessly to nuclear armament?
The conversation turns to military intervention. A year
ago, The New Yorker ran an extensive essay on the subject
by Seymour Hersh, the salient finding of which was that to
bring off an interdictory operation is very nearly
Item No. l: The Israeli air force does not have airplanes
with a range sufficient to complete a round trip to Iranian
targets. Israeli culture does not sanction suicide missions,
and it is inconceivable that planes would fly from Israel
on suicide missions.
Item No. 2: Nuclear sites in Iran are spread about, so that
what the Israelis did in the 1981 bombing of Osirak, abort-
ing the whole Iraqi nuclear operation, cannot be reproduced
in Iran. An air strike superior to anything the Israelis
could mount would be required.
And Item No. 3: To get on with such an operation, requiring
aircraft carriers and strategically useful bases on the
perimeter of the target area, could not conceivably be done
The whole world would be ongoing witness to the
impending operation, and pacifist anti-American
capitulationist forces would rise to put almost impassable
diplomatic obstacles in the way.
Well, then, can we get on with sanctions? These would seem
to be scheduled, with the reiterated threat to call to the
attention of the U.N. Security Council the illegality of
Iran's program, as a signer of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation
In the first place, Moscow, in its anfractuous way,
would probably veto sanctions. But what if it didn't? A
determined international anti-Iran effort would hurt
Iranians and Iranian interests, but how decisively?
We aren't going to refuse to consume Iranian oil. Economic
boycotts mostly do not work, and if and when they do (e.g.,
against Rhodesia), they require great stretches of time to
generate real pain, and time is what we do not have.
The point insufficiently pressed is this: Why does the
United States need to shoulder the critical burden here?
If Iran gets the bomb, probably a new set of strategic
relationships would arise. Saudi Arabia and Egypt would
clamor for the bomb, perhaps also Turkey.
Regional internecine pressures would mount hugely.
What it comes down to is that the United States would be critically
affected, but other nations would be more directly
affected, and the question repeats itself: Why do they
not take on the responsibility of intervening in Iran?
Why should France not interrupt its August holiday to
participate in a military mission? The interests of
Germany and India are clearly affected. Where is U.S.
diplomacy going with all of this? It's one thing that
the United States is the ultimate deterrent power, but
we act as though there were no others, and this is both
emasculating and psychologically subversive.
Ideally, the initiative would be taken elsewhere, a
forceful European or Middle Eastern leader mobilizing
continental and Asian concern.
But failing that, the initiative would necessarily fall
on us, and the question then becomes: Is it something
Mr. Bush is going to handle before the end of his term