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A Waltz to Forget

Kenneth Waltz’s weak argument in favor of a nuclear Iran

Adam Chandler
June 22, 2012

Ah, the contrarian. It’s fun to be one. People love a contrarian. America loves a contrarian. They spice things up! Like that guy from the show House. The main character. The doctor who’s always yelling at people to do crazy things that never seem right to everyone else and then they eventually are. I think his name on the show is actually House. I’m not sure because I don’t watch House (which is also, surprisingly, a contrarian thing to do).

There’s a line, however, maybe more of a narrow berth through which well-argued contrarianism falls from suave insouciance toward conventional wisdom into being either disingenuous or stupid. I don’t think Kenneth M. Waltz, whose story “Why Iran Should Get the Bomb” got the cover of Foreign Affairs for next month, is either stupid or disingenuous, but he may be (in the immortal words of Van Morrison) a dweller on the threshold. Waltz (who became Dr. Waltz during the first Eisenhower administration) starts here:

“Most U.S., European, and Israeli commentators and policymakers warn that a nuclear-armed Iran would be the worst possible outcome of the current standoff. In fact, it would probably be the best possible result: the one most likely to restore stability to the Middle East.”

Waltz goes onto suggest that it’s Israel’s regional nuclear monopoly that has “long fueled instability in the Middle East.” Not the centuries-old feud between Sunni and Shi’a Muslims or the clumsy game of checkers the United States and the Soviet Union made of the region during the Cold War or the long-standing suppression of democracy by despots or the plots of violent, revolution-sowing resistance groups or the ethnic division that has caused countless civil wars in each corner of the region. Did I mention the entire region-upturning Arab Spring? Probably the fault of Israel’s regional nuclear monopoly, nu?

“Power begs to be balanced,” Waltz posits! And while Iran’s leaders “indulge in inflammatory and hateful rhetoric, they show no propensity for self-destruction.” Forget that Iran was one of the actors in the longest conventional war of the 20th century, which killed over a million people. Iranian leaders have no desire to self-destruct, not in the killing of its own citizens following an election stolen by the regime, not in the death threats it makes to a nuclear state, not in the dangerous thumbing of its nose at the international community, and not in its sponsorship of worldwide terrorism or the funding of terrorist armies in Gaza and Lebanon. (How an article proposes that Iran be granted the power to create a nuclear bomb and then makes ZERO MENTION of Hezbollah is intellectually criminal.)

Waltz defends:

Iran may be intransigent at the negotiating table and defiant in the face of sanctions, but it still acts to secure its own preservation. Iran’s leaders did not, for example, attempt to close the Strait of Hormuz despite issuing blustery warnings that they might do so after the EU announced its planned oil embargo in January. The Iranian regime clearly concluded that it did not want to provoke what would surely have been a swift and devastating American response to such a move.

Fair point. But what if they had had a nuke?

There are plenty more bones to pick at here, but I’ll leave at this. It’s Friday, after all!

Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.

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