February 21, 2024 | Rome, Italy

The Iran Follies

By |2018-03-21T18:20:35+01:00January 21st, 2006|Area 51|
Here’s some liberal history, as in liberally dispensed. Who built the Atom Bomb? The United States, with European minds.

What,” asked the late Gilda Radner one Saturday Night Live an age ago, “is all this fuss about Soviet jewelry?”

Jewry it was. Fuss it was. Radner was joyously madcap before the cancer.

But point taken. Enmity (and misunderstanding) hinges on syllables — added, forgotten or marred. Comedy goes away when threats get specific gravity.

To nuclear weapons. To Iran.

Here’s some liberal history, as in liberally dispensed. Who built the Atom Bomb? The United States, with European minds. Who dropped it, twice? The United States, determined to end a war with an exclamation point and hector its growing rival, the Soviet Union.

What next?

The Soviet Union, of course.

Then H-Bombs. Then France, Britain, China, India, and Pakistan.

In the Eros of modern pique, nuclear bombs are puberty. No telling how you behave when you hit it. You do feel bigger, stronger, more entitled. You are also feared and envied.

Boiled down, the nuclear fuss is about limiting rite of passage to the responsible. Responsibility, in turn, is mandated by conventions laid down by the Atomic “founding five” to govern themselves and discourage others from joining them. That much hasn’t changed in five decades.

Pakistan and India barged in uninvited eight years ago—the first former colonial nations to challenge the clout of their one-time masters (and to threaten one another.)

Israel is presumed to have nuclear technology, if not bombs, and attacked Iraq in 1981 to keep Baghdad from making itself annoying. Libya has dabbled. South Africa had bombs but shucked them.

Now, North Korea and Iran stir.

Iran gets the lion’s share of attention (subbing for North Korea, which held point for several years) because it has a loose-lipped president parochially attracted to incendiary remarks. That his panegyrics have the backing of the Iranian military just makes matters worse.

Iran it is, and fuss it is.

The ongoing nuclear assumption — which also hasn’t changed much in 50 years — is that a big weapons means a big threat.

What the view eschews — particularly when the matter bubbles up in a non-Western nation —is that possession of a weapon can elicit both responsibility and self-deterrence. A nuclear bomb, most nations know, is not for using. It’s a lever, a pump, a swab of killer makeup. People perk up around its presence.

Until 1998, the bomb was a toy for Christians and atheists only. Now, Hindus and Muslims have a passkey. Add Persia to the mix and the world, seen from this side, fragments backwards in time, engrossing itself Biblically. Balances break and post-9/11 paranoia rises.

If Iran goes atomic, say sound bites, Israel is again imperiled and the region susceptible to a miniature Islamic superpower.

This isn’t so much inaccurate as it is sincerely hysterical.

Iran’s neo-revolutionaries have one interest that supersedes megalomania: Survival. You do not survive by detonating nuclear bombs any more than you profit particularly by taking the risks to make one.

But the high-profile process surrounding possession of nuclear technology elicits a kind of carbonated tension that is to die for: You, Tehran, are suddenly the center of attention — no small marker in a militant time all around.

It is the tension, not the bomb, which Iran bids for.

Internally, such tension distracts from dire straights. Externally, it adds a third dimension to a two-dimensional process.

The bomb is a means not an end, because if acquired, if built, the militancy that made it is immediately vulnerable to new variables and more intricate reasoning. Self-deterrence, unimaginable now, kicks in. So does responsibility. Even a sense of supra-religious human community. Otherwise, no planet. A zealot in Moscow, in Washington, in Beijing — or in a smaller corner of post-1989 Russia — would have pushed too hard.

But no one has yet arrived at such species self-loathing.

Iran, which lorded over Mesopotamian civilization, is the latest rabid animal on the Western circus stage, a conveniently posed rogue-in-waiting — albeit a craven revival of 25-year-old act that began with Ruhollah Khomeini.

Yet in skeptical moments the circus — a spectacle of pariahs — seems rigged to host nothing but the rabid.

Only friends. Only enemies. Only good. Only bad. No imposters. No in-between.

Liking being trapped in epoch whose cultural syntax counts on a fuss for pulse and depends on a crisis for escapism.

Soviet jewelry be damned.

Christopher P. Winner’s email address is cpwinner@theamericanmag.com

About the Author:

Christopher P. Winner is a veteran American journalist and essayist who was born in Paris in 1953 and has lived in Europe for more than 30 years.