The nuclear option

Dateline 8 September 2006

The Battle of Plattsburgh was one of the decisive engagements of War of 1812 – the last time that my country and yours were in action against each other. Indeed, Americans have fought Americans more recently than they have fought the British.

Today there are few countries more closely allied than the UK and USA. Our troops are in action alongside each other in Afghanistan and Iraq. Perhaps soon in Syria or Iran.

Iran is certainly going to be the dominant security concern of the coming years. The recent war between Israel and Hezbollah has reinforced several key beliefs among policy makers in the West.

Iran cannot possibly be allowed to develop a nuclear capacity. Politicians who, just a few weeks ago, were prepared to believe that Iran was bluffing in its genocidal intentions and belief in Armageddon, now realize that it was not. If the Iranians had nuclear weapons, there is an overwhelming probability they would use them: against Israel, certainly. Against the US, very probably.

Nuclear deterrence was a key part of the containment strategy that won the Cold War. But deterrence only works with people who fear death. People who believe – and really believe – that 72 virgins are waiting for them at the gates of heaven are not deterred by the American ability to kill them.

Iran must be prevented from developing nuclear weapons.

This can still be achieved. Negotiations cannot achieve it, but regime change, perhaps, can. This is the Afghanistan option. Providing support, political initially, then military, for Iran’s internal opponents might succeed in bringing the Iranian government down. This should be the preferred strategy, and on a small scale is probably being pursued already. But it might fail. There is a chance that Iran will develop nuclear weapons before the Iranian government changes. This is unlikely to be a problem for the current President, as the critical date is probably five or ten years away.

It is a problem for the next President, and may be the key dividing issue in the elections of 2008 and 2012.

In the past, there have been three possible response strategies. But the confrontation between Israel and Hezbollah has exposed one of them as a fraud. You cannot win a war with air power alone. This leaves just two options: invasion or a pre-emptive nuclear strike.

New York is about to re-elect to the Senate a woman who could be in the Oval Office when these decisions are made. We know that from her husband’s Presidency what his preferred option would have been: air strikes. I believe I am correct in saying that he dropped more bombs on Iraq than the two Presidents Bush combined. But that option is gone.

If Hillary Clinton’s instincts are the same as Bill’s, then we can assume she will show his visceral fear of deploying ground troops. Without that option she will be left with a straight choice: nuke Iran, or hope that Iran does not nuke the USA. Neither of the Clinton’s is a dove. They are not from the McGovern wing of the Democratic Party. I find it difficult to believe she would balk the decision altogether. So let me make this prediction. If regime change fails, and if Hillary Clinton becomes President she will launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike against Iran.

Quentin Langley is editor of an academic at the University of Cardiff and is a columnist with Campaigns & Elections. This article was first published in the Common Sense series for the Battle of Plattsburgh edition of Lake Champlain Weekly.

View article with menu

All information © copyright Quentin Langley 2407