Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Hard Times

The news story of the century continues to evade the front page of the New York Times, yet it persists nonetheless---Khatami: Iran begins uranium enrichment despite IAEA warning:
Khatami says Iran will continue its nuclear programme. Shrugging off a 35-nation ultimatum, Iran revealed on Tuesday that it had started converting tons of raw uranium as part of technology that could be used to make nuclear arms.

The International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) board of governors passed a resolution on Saturday specifically demanding that Iran freeze all uranium enrichment -- including conversion -- and expressing alarms of Tehran’s plans to start the process.

Describing his country as a victim of “pressures imposed by the United States,” Iranian Vice President Reza Aghazadeh said that of the more than 40 tons of uranium being mined for enrichment “some (already) has been used.”
President Bush made a stirring speech to the U.N. recently. It was about security, Iraq, and exporting democracy. He said nothing about Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Iran is now a neighbor---Americans flank it on two borders. Iran’s nuclear business is our business. And Europe’s, Israel’s and Russia’s.

The President panegyrized the UN with assuring words:
History will honor the high ideals of this organization. The charter states them with clarity: "To save succeeding generations from the scourge of war," "to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights," "to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom."
What is perplexing about these times is how far out we have skated upon thin ice, and yet the comforts of 20th century platitudes and rhetoric still define our official world view. Surely, President Bush is aware of the stakes in Iran and North Korea. He must know the pieces of the nuclear proliferation puzzle better than most. Yet, in spite of boldly blazing into the heart of darkness, we impose upon ourselves a tentative policy in the face of our destruction. At the doorstep of the abyss, we waver. We consult fair-weather friends, taking refuge in the language of diplomacy and consensus, as though we are waiting for the moment to seize upon us. Yet, this is the moment. This is the time---right now.

Preemption in an era of nuclear proliferation may be folly if not acted upon decisively. What realistically can be accomplished, and for how long? At best, preemption buys only time. The nuclear genie has long left the bottle, lurking in many scattered places---too many places to account for. It seems unlikely that a nuclear event can be forestalled indefinitely. So in an era of preemption, we must look at this moment in history as a bridge to another epoch. We live now in that moment between two worlds---the one before 9/11, and the one that will follow the unthinkable. Preemption is a short moment in our history, whose utility will diminish.

Preemption can only be a temporary policy, while it is feasible at all. It may already be dead, in a practical sense. Dithering on the border of Iran, the President proclaims hollow commendation for the UN, an organization he must actually despise. Between ourselves and a terrorist’s nuclear assembly line stands the UN, the EU, our own self-doubt and petty politics. High-minded UN-speak doesn’t gel with preemption, which boils down to defensively saving our bacon through offensive means. There’s nothing fancy about it, nothing that can make it sound digestible to bureaucracies predisposed for averaged policy. It doesn’t fit in the Charter, and never will. Consensus is fine for writing international laws that are easily broken; but it is the antithesis of preemption.

During this period, we should realistically consider how we can prepare ourselves for the hard times that will follow. Preemption’s true opportunity is only the time it secures for planning the next stage of our civilization. Who among us inhabits that world with more than trepidation and despair?

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This post is also at Winds of Change