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Give Iran the bomb? Reading Iran's apologists

By Jan De Pauw - posted Thursday, 27 September 2007

Two Security Council resolutions later, and suffering the first effects of tightening economic restrictions, Iran remains a problem child.

An August 21, 2007 agreement (PDF 171KB) between Ahmadinejad's team and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), to address outstanding issues relating to Iran's nuclear program may seem to mark a progress of sorts. To many critics however, the agreement merely proves Iran's mastery of divisionary tactics.

The text offers a token of goodwill, while simultaneously claiming the right to postpone indefinitely ... It is making people weary. Already, China hesitates to sanction Iran any further, and the general mood at the IAEA seems to be that a nuclear Iran is somehow unavoidable. And then there are those who think an Iran in possession of the bomb wouldn't even be half bad. Their voices are nothing new, but their wishes may come true sooner rather than later.


Among the most famous of those who accept and applaud Iran's nuclear ambitions, is commentator and philosopher Slavoj Zizek, who has hailed the program as a means to break American hegemony, on the grounds that the logic of MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) cuts both ways.

A faint and much less vindictive echo of this view was voiced by retired Army General John Abizaid recently, when he stated the deterrence capacity of the US army is more than strong enough to keep a nuclear Iran in check. Of course it is, but the question is whether this is the balance that counts. A nuclear Iran's first effect will be on the region, risking triggering a dangerous race for the bomb all around the area.

Immanuel Wallerstein for his part maintains that until non-proliferation and disarmament apply to everybody in the atomic club, there’s no problem with Iran and other countries stocking up on atomic weaponry.

In answer to Wallerstein, to start disarmament by expanding the nuclear circle is, to say the least, a curious assertion. And as to Zizek and American hegemony, one should ask what hegemony really means. Who exactly is calling the shots in the Middle East? And what of the Chinese, Russian, European and Iranian energy agendas that consistently undercut international consensus? Zizek speaks of "one sole madman". Is that a rhetorical figure, or an actual person? And in case of the latter, are we talking George Bush or Osama Bin Laden? Or Kim Yung Il for that matter? Zizek tends to lose himself in language that drifts away from fact. Besides, one wonders how much he really knows about the area, if he calls Iran a "large Arab state"!

But, even if not all apologists for Iran are very elaborate, two authors stand out, with Abolghasem Bayyenat writing from the Iranian perspective, and Thomas P. Barnett taking a globalist point of view. Despite their differences, both authors (as do the others mentioned) agree that Iran is after the bomb. As such they seem to attach no belief whatsoever to Iran’s claim that its intentions are strictly peaceful and aimed only at civilian energy development. It is worth bearing that in mind, because at heart their reasoning thus reveals itself to be cynical and pragmatic, unknowingly cautioning readers against taking Iran at face value. This in turn will undermine some of their own arguments in defence of Iran’s atomic policy, as will become clear further on.

For Abolghasem Bayyenat, fear over an Iranian bomb is unfounded. His basic contention is that Iran’s bark is much worse than its bite. He sees a country that mostly operates by pragmatic and strategic calculations, having lost most of its revolutionary zeal over the past 27 years. Furthermore, most of the country’s youth - a huge demographic group - are pro-western. Even Iran’s hardline stance against Israel he dismisses as propaganda for the Muslim masses, who happen to be Ahmadinejad’s powerbase. He further backs his claim with the assertion that the country hasn’t embarked on any form of military adventurism in the last 250 years.


The author may well have a point, but it is not entirely straightforward. Iran may not openly embark on military adventurism, but it certainly is manoeuvering its power breaking pawns on the board of the Middle East, covertly and expertly. Its involvement in last summer's war in Lebanon, as well as its history of state-sponsored terrorism in the region, and its perceived presence in both Iraq and Afghanistan, are testimony to the fact Iran doesn't passively observe developments in the area.

With regards to the demographic argument, it should be noted that Iran's presumably pro-western youth have largely abandoned the political process, leaving the playing field open to realignments within the establishment to the benefit of hardliners à la Ahmadinejad. This is important with regard to the widely accepted notion that the non-proliferation regime is unsustainable: leaving the hardliners to make the decisions risks turning unsustainability into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Bayyenat's apology is built largely on the suggestion that Iran is hardly the regime it projects itself to be, and the West should just accept that as a fact.

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About the Author

Jan De Pauw is a Belgian Federal Diplomat, posted in Berlin. He holds an M.A. in Philosophy and an M.A. in International Politics. He is an independent writer, and you can find more of his work at his blog Trabecular Meshwork.

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