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PROFESSOR OF RELIGIOUS STUDIES
UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO AT BOULDER
NEOCONS MAY BE DOWN, NOT OUT, WITH A NUCLEAR IRAN
wants nukes they’ll get them, and there ain’t a damn
thing the U.S.
can do about it. We’ll just have to learn to live with a nuclear-armed Iran. That’s
the conclusion top U.S.
intelligence officials reached at a recent secret meeting, according to the
Times of London.
Don’t rush to count this as another defeat for the neocons, who have been pushing
Bush to get tough with Iran.
Even if the intelligence experts’ common sense prevails in the White House, it
won’t necessarily be a setback for the neocon agenda.
In fact, the neocons may be down with Iranian nukes. If Iran develops
usable nuclear weapons, that could pave the way for years or even decades of
cold war with Iran.
And that would delight the neocons. Their goal is not,
and has never been, to win wars. They’d rather go on fighting wars.
The neocon movement began in
the 1960s as an effort to turn back the tide of countercultural change here at
home. Here’s what writers like Irving Kristol and
Norman Podhoretz said: The “Do your own thing” generation threatened the very fabric of
American society. The young radicals didn’t have the inner strength needed to control their dangerous desires. These
hippie-type individuals saw no reason to take strong stands on anything; it’s
all relative, they said. So they no longer cared about winning the contests of
life. In fact, they reveled in their weakness. ‘60s male radicals
were, Podhoretz complained, “the kind of men who do not wish to be men.”
The neocon antidote to this
plague of softness was a cult of male strength acted out on every front. Fighting
communism was just one of many ways to show that strength. Of course they never
expected to eliminate communism completely. Indeed, they needed the commies,
just as they needed the hippies, to serve as enemies against whom they could go
on fighting. If there’s no foe to battle against, how can you show your own
strength and resolve? A seemingly
endless cold war suited them fine, because it offered an endless array of new
fronts on which to prove that America
had the will, the resolve, the toughness to keep on
The end of the cold war threw the neocon
movement into crisis. Most of them wanted to go back to battling on the
domestic front against feminism, multiculturalism, and other social trends
growing out of the ‘60s. By the end of the ‘90s, though, the movement had
turned it focus abroad once again, especially on the Middle
But the new leaders of the movement, William Kristol and Robert Kagan, were
still promoting militarism abroad mainly as a way to kick the Vietnam
syndrome and restore a tough backbone to our society here at home. By throwing
our military weight around unilaterally and showing the world how tough we
could be, Americans would regain “a
sense of mission … a clear moral purpose,” they wrote in 1996. “The remoralization of America at home ultimately requires
the remoralization of American foreign policy.”
Fighting evil around the world would inspire Americans to “uphold the core
elements of the Western tradition” and make them feel grateful to God for
giving them “this implacable challenge.”
Since 9/11, the neocons have
shown that they want challenge, challenge, and more challenge. Cheney and Rumsfeld said shortly after 9/11 that their war on
terrorism would resemble the cold war, a way to go on showing America’s will
and resolve forever.
Condi Rice implied the same thing when she said that she now expected “a period akin to 1945
to 1947, when American leadership…[created] a new
balance of power that favored freedom.” Though
she’s often seen as a counterweight to the neocons,
they claim to have converted her after 9/11, and their claim should not be
lightly dismissed. Earlier this year she sounded like a full-blooded neocon when she told an audience that on September 11,
2001, ,” including added” that American leaders showed in
the early cold war years.
warriors, the neocons feel strong only when they are
fighting demons, monsters who embody absolute evil —
proving, of course, that they and their beloved America are absolutely good. That’s
why the successes of the anti-occupation forces in Iraq need not trouble them too
much. The Iraq
fiasco gives neocons more opportunity to sound the
clarion call to stand tough, to show will and resolve. Only ‘60s-style weaklings,
they tell us, would even consider the possibility that we might “cut and run.”
Now they have trained their sights on Iran. While
they’ve leaked plenty of hints about hot war, perhaps even nuclear war, against
Ahmadinejad’s regime, they’ve talked even more about
a new cold war, with Iran
replacing the defunct Soviet Union. Last
spring, Condi Rice’s Undersecretary of State, Nicholas Burns, called the U.S. embassy in Dubai
the “21st century equivalent” of the Riga
station in Latvia
in the 1930s. Burns knows very well that the Riga
station was a major incubator for the ideology and fervor of the U.S.
cold war effort. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli
underscored the point, saying, “We used to have Soviet experts - [now] we've
got a cadre of Iran
State runs a well-funded program to support Iranian
dissidents, who are supposed to overthrow the Ahmadinejad
regime. It’s based in Dubai.
And it is overseen by the Deputy
Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs, who just happens to be Elizabeth
Cheney, the Vice President's daughter.
But we haven’t yet gotten to the really scary part.
The intelligence experts who are counseling Bush to live with an Iranian bomb
are also saying that all hell would break loose if anyone attacks Iran. That includes
the most likely attacker: Israel.
If the neocons are indeed down with a nuclear Iran, they have to persuade Israel (which may soon be led by superhawk Benjamin Netanyahu) not to bomb Iran.
The way they’ll do it is frighteningly predictable.
They will say that we must promise Israel a deterrent shield. That is,
we must promise that if Iran
attacks Israel, we will nuke
And, they’ll say, that means we need a more modern and robust nuclear arsenal. After
all, you can’t fight a cold war without an omnipotent deterrent. A new cold war
needs new nukes.
This, too, is
a replay of the neocons’ cold war. Back in the ‘70s,
according to the editor of the Journal of American History, Edward T. Linenthal, they used nukes as symbols of will and resolve.
They promoted a buildup of the nation’s nuclear arsenal to symbolize “an inner
transformation, a revival of the will to sacrifice.” Now they may very well do
The great irony here is that Iran has
provided the neocons with a perfect target because
its leaders seem to have much the same mentality. They say that Islam forbids
using nuclear weapons, and they may very well mean it. But they never say that
Islam forbids possessing nukes. Why would they build weapons they don’t plan to
use? As symbols of national
strength, of course. The neocons can
understand their new enemy perfectly well.
They can thank their new enemy, too. It takes two to
play at cold war. The North Koreans, even if they test a nuke, can hardly rank
as a serious cold war enemy. How convenient that Iran, a huge rich nation in a
hugely important geopolitical location, is willing to fill the bill. Now we can
go on arming, warring (coldly), and showing our immutable strength forever. And
the neoconservatives can see a chance to keep calling the shots in U.S. foreign
policy forever, too.