Give Iran the bomb: it might make the regime more pliable
You see, if I were an Iranian politician, my mind would be made up. If we were all sitting in Teheran and puffing our post-breakfast pipes and pondering the question of Iranian nukes, I am afraid that we might come to a very different answer.
Never mind the bleating from the UN and the snarlings of the Bush Administration and the stream of démarches from Margaret Beckett, which I would file immediately in the bin. If I were the member for Qom South, I would feel that it was my patriotic duty to equip my country, as fast as possible, with the biggest, shiniest, pointiest and most explosive thermonuclear device on the market.
I would want an Iranian nuke not because nukes are some kind of national virility symbol. It’s nothing to do with the great spirit of bourgeois rivalry that normally actuates the human race: it’s not like wanting a flat-screen television, just because the neighbours have got one.
I think I might genuinely and not unreasonably believe that the possession of a nuclear bomb, and the ability to deliver it over some distance, was the only sure-fire means of protecting my country, and my poor huddled constituents in Qom South, from the possibility of an attack by America.
If I wanted any support for this belief, I would only have to look across the Shatt-al-Arab to the carnage now taking place in Iraq. There, the Americans used their incomparably superior military power to topple a regime, and plunge a neighbouring country into civil war. The tragedy and irony of the whole thing is that Bush managed to take out the one regime in the “Axis of Evil” that was not, in fact, developing weapons of mass destruction.
Indeed, that seems to be precisely why he targeted Iraq rather than the other two, and it is now retrospectively obvious why Saddam Hussein was so foxy and tricksy with the UN weapons inspectors: the silly old fool was pathetically trying to suggest that he might have something up his sleeve after all, in the hope of deterring an attack by the Pentagon.
He failed, and the result is that 58,000 Iraqis are dead as well as thousands of coalition troops, and the whole catastrophe has hugely accelerated the nuclear programme of the other two evil members of the Axis. Iran is going hell-for-leather, and North Korea is now scaring us all witless with the seismographic proof of its own entry into the nuclear club.
It is precisely because Iraq has gone so wrong that Bush and Blair are now morally and politically incapacitated from leading us through the quagmire. Who on earth would trust Tony Blair, if he were to tell us that we had to go for a military solution? Who would believe a word he said?
And how can Bush instruct the Iranians not to equip themselves with a bomb, when he has been unable to stop the secret of nuclear destruction being unveiled to the North Koreans?
Kim Jong-il beats all-comers in the global whacko stakes. If he can have a bomb, why can’t the mullahs? No one can pretend that any of this is good news. In an ideal world, the Israelis would fly to Iran and repeat their magnificent success at Osirak in 1986, where they bombed Saddam’s nuclear capacity in its desert cradle.
But I vividly remember a conversation two years ago with one of the most fearsome hawks in Jerusalem, and he told me that option was no longer available: the stuff is all fizzing away already in hardened bunkers, and the sites are too scattered.
So what is the answer? The answer, of course, is not to panic, and also not to reach for our six-guns, and not to spout the language of Wild West ultimatums. There are two very different regimes, and their ambitions call for different responses.
My despairing feeling is that, in the case of Iran, we should admit that it’s checkmate, as they say in Persian. The Iranians are one day going to possess a nuclear bomb; there is almost certainly nothing we can do about it; all our blustering and threats are pointless. Indeed, if all else fails, there may even be a case for giving the Iranians the bomb — that’s right: maybe it is time for the Americans to take control themselves of this unstoppable programme.
If I am right in thinking that an Iranian bomb is not only inevitable, but also corresponds to the wishes of the people of Iran, then perhaps we could turn this whole thing on its head. Perhaps it is time to end the sense of terror, and suspicion, and escalating menace. Perhaps the Americans could actually assist with the technology, as they assist the United Kingdom, in return for certain conditions: that the Iranian leadership stops raving about attacking Israel, for instance, and that progress is made towards democracy, and so on.
The Iranian public might feel grateful, and engaged, and not demonised. Would it mean the end of Israel, which has 200 warheads of its own? Of course not. The logic of mutually assured destruction still applies, and even the mullahs are not mad enough to take on a country that could turn their desert into molten glass.
It is true that the Iranian regime is scary; but there have been movements towards pluralism. China and Pakistan both have the bomb, and these are not conspicuously democratic. I am acutely conscious that this may seem faintly barmy, and I should stress that this is not a policy, and certainly not a Tory policy, but simply an idea I am running up the flagpole, and I suggest it only because we seem to be short of anything better.
The tragedy of growing up is that human beings acquire the means of killing themselves and others. The human race now collectively has that power. The Iranians will join in soon enough. It might be sensible if they did so in an atmosphere of co-operation and understanding, and not amid intensifying threats and hysteria, especially when those threats are known to be bogus.
As for North Korea, it is obviously time to talk and not to threaten, though, if there was some way of quietly disabling Kim’s bombs until the end of his hideous regime, we should certainly consider it. Where is James Bond these days?