Monday, October 23, 2006

Iran- No Big Deal.

The West has been having problems with Persia at least since the days of Themistocles but in all that time the nation's conflicts with the West have been largely indecisive and they have not attempted a major westward expansion of their power for hundreds if not thousands of years. The current regime is pretty unpleasant and what passes for civilised life seems to have regressed but that doesn't make it a danger to us. As this fascinating article by Gregory Cochran in the American Conservative points out, its behaviour is far more consistant with planning for a defensive war and they clearly have no great ambitions for conquest.
Iran’s GNP is 20 to 40 times smaller than that of the U.S., and the Iranians are hardly sophisticated technologists. If they tried hard, if they spent a huge fraction of their GNP on weapons, they might be able to spend 1/30th as much on arms as we do. But they’re not trying hard.

In truth, Iran hasn’t embarked upon any military adventures in years: there is no pattern of aggression and conquest, no frantic military buildup. The war with Iraq a generation ago seems to have used up most of the Iranians’ revolutionary zeal. We do not hear of their “last territorial demands.” In fact, we’re still waiting for the first.

Even when provoked, they’ve been cautious. The Taliban, back in 1998, killed a number of Iranian diplomats along with thousands of fellow Shi’ites. The Iranian government was angry, as any government would have been. The Iranians threatened, they mobilized troops on the Afghan border—but never invaded.
The one concern about Iran I have had is that their behaviour could be suicidely unpredictable and they might launch a nuclear attack regardless of the consequences, but:
Most of the people running Iran today could have easily become martyrs under the Shah if they’d felt like it. Somehow they avoided it.
It's a good point, for all that the ignorant peasant Mahmoud Ahmadinejad talks big, when the time came to put his courage to the test, either under the Shah or against Saddam, he was conveniently absent trimming his beard. Not the behaviour that one would expect from someone planning to die for their cause.

Iran having a nuclear weapon is not a desirable prospect, but it is not such an extreme threat that we should be willing to go to war.

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