Gelb believes that the way is clear for productive negotiations [with Iran], with “a real possibility” that Iran’s nuclear ambitions can be limited to peaceful uses.
But Obama’s moment of truth will come if Iran doesn’t, ultimately, want to play. Will the “demons” rot away his policy judgment? Will he exaggerate Iran’s power, as the Israelis and neoconservatives routinely do, turning a relatively modest regional player into an existential threat — mad mullahs ready to blow up the world? Will he allow Republicans to force him into a tough-guy pose for domestic consumption? Will he suffer the delusion that U.S., or Israeli, power can “take out” the Iranian nuclear program without disastrous retribution?
Gelb, who believes the proper reaction to an Iranian bomb is containment and deterrence, not force, may be reacting to past American arrogance with undue humility. “If you try for the perfect solution, you’re asking for failure,” he says.
We can live with a nuclear Iran? I’m not so sure. I’m no fan of neo-conservatism, but if a nuclear Iran is not an existential threat, what is? Iran is not the former Soviet Union (a nation that was led by atheists who did not have an interest in blowing themselves up for religious purposes). Iran is a country that is literally run by fundamentalist mullahs who support suicide bombing as a means to forwarding their ends. Iran is, therefore, inherently a wild card. It is a country that could literally use a nuclear bomb in a gesture of religious collective suicide (exchanging millions of Iranian lives in exchange for the destruction of Israel).
There are, afterall, a billion Muslims and only a few million Israelis in the world. In the warped religious logic that no doubt dances in the head of Iran’s supreme Ayatollah, who is willing to bet that the old man might not calculate that a few million fewer Muslims in exchange for the extinction of Israel is a desirable option—a God inspired means—for achieving a final solution to the Jewish problem in the Middle East?
Really, with a nuclear Iran, how far-fetched is Holocaust 2.0? My guess is: not terribly.
Religious fanatics have, in the past, committed collective acts of suicide (think of Jim Jones’s cult in the late 1970s). And Iran is a country run by religious fanatics. A nuclear Iran—so long as it is a theocratic, fundamentalist state—would be profoundly dangerous. Rational stand-off nuclear deterrence would probably not apply with Iran. And Israelis would wake up every morning wondering if their tiny country might, that day, be literally obliterated in the blink of an eye.
Obama must surely know this. He certainly cannot let Iran get a nuclear weapon on his watch. And my guess is that he won’t.