In Greek mythology, Cassandra was granted the power of prophecy only to be subsequently cursed that she would never be believed. She warned her fellow citizens of Troy not to allow the Trojan horse into the city, and even tried to set it on fire, only to be publicly ridiculed. The Trojans did not laugh long, however, as the Greeks hidden inside the huge horse razed the city, which only hours before had been celebrating its victory over the Greeks.
Closer to our own day, Winston Churchill was a voice in the wilderness warning his countrymen throughout the thirties of the need to rearm in the face of Germany's military build-up. When Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returned from Munich to nearly unanimous acclaim to proclaim "peace in our time," Churchill told him that he had chosen peace over honor, but would have neither. Tens of millions of human beings, including more than six million Jews, would perish in World War II due to the failure of the West to heed Churchill's warnings, which fell Cassandra-like on deaf ears.
Opponents of the West's capitulation to Iran over its nuclear weapons program can feel today something of what Churchill experienced throughout the thirties. Distinguished economist Thomas Sowell was not engaging in hyperbole when he declared, "Clearing the way for Iran to get nuclear bombs may – probably will – be the most catastrophic decision in human history. And it can certainly change human history, irrevocably, for the worse." For what other decision carries within in it such potential for mass destruction, on a scale that would make even World War II seem like a stroll in the park. (Be it noted that Sowell is black for all those who reflexively dismiss any criticism of the president as racism.)
All during the forty year Cold War, the Union of Concerned Scientists kept the nuclear clock at five minutes to midnight. If so, today it must be at one second to midnight. President Obama admitted in an NPR interview that even under his own most favorable interpretation of the provisional agreement with Iran, Iran will have zero breakout time to acquiring a nuclear bomb thirteen years from now. Nor will it have to violate any provisions of the agreement to get there.
Since the dawn of the nuclear age, the gold standard of the battle against nuclear proliferation has been the denial to states with civilian reactors of access to the rest of the nuclear fuel style, points out John Bolton, former undersecretary of state for arms control. Now, the West, with America leading the charge, has acquiesced in the acquisition of nuclear weapons by a rogue state and the leading international sponsor of terrorism, which has declared its mission to wipe Israel off the map.
Sunni states of the Middle East have made clear that they will not abide Shiite Iran being the Middle East's sole Muslim nuclear power. (They have never been particularly concerned about a nuclear-armed Israel because they know that Israel's weapons will never be used offensively.) Saudi Arabia already has a deal in place to buy nuclear weapons off-the-shelf from Pakistan, and Turkey and Egypt will follow suit in the pursuit of nuclear weapons. Thus the world's most volatile and unstable region, home to multiple failed states, will also be home to the rapid proliferation of nuclear weapons. The millennial Sunni-Shiite enmity will turn the region into a tinderbox waiting to be lit. Nor is there anything that the United States can do to convince the Saudis not to obtain nuclear weapons as a hedge against Iran's hegemonic ambitions in the region. The Saudis have long since lost all faith in the president and his promises.
The long-term stability of Saudi Arabia and Egypt cannot be assured – Iran is already stirring the pot in the eastern, majority Shiite, oil-producing provinces of Saudi Arabia and on Egypt's southern border in Yemen. Egypt cannot feed its citizens. As a consequence, there can be no guarantee that if these countries obtain nuclear weapons they will not fall into the hands of terrorist groups.
Former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and George Schultz note in their devastating, multi-prong critique of the recent agreement that all previous thinking on nuclear strategy "assumed the existence of stable state actors." "How will these doctrines translate into a region where sponsorship of non-state proxies is common, the state structure is under assault, and death on behalf of jihad is a kind of fulfillment?" they ask.
Iran itself is the leading sponsor of non-state proxies – Hezbollah, Hamas, the Houthis in Yemen – and might well find it useful at some point to transfer some portion of its nuclear arsenal to one of its terrorist proxies, which would be less threatened by retaliation.
James Woolsey, the director of the CIA under President Clinton, and Peter Vincent Pry, a member of the congressional EMP (electro-magnetic pulse) Commission, argue that Iran's Shiite theology, with its emphasis on the appearance of the so-called Hidden Imam, after some apocalyptic event, makes it impossible to trust that any previous models of nuclear deterrence apply to Iran. The founder of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Khomeini was found of saying that the thought of Iran consumed in flames, if Islam were thereby advanced, did not trouble him. In the oft-quoted remark of Bernard Lewis, the leading scholar of the Middle East, a nuclear conflagration may serve as an inducement not a deterrent for Iran's mullahs. Even assuming that the mullahs are not quite as eager for martyrdom as they sometimes say, if the Islamic regime were threatened with collapse from within, all bets would be off on their use of nuclear weapons.
And lest anyone imagine that the threat of nuclear attack is confined to the small state of Israel, Woolsey and Fry stress the vulnerability of the United States. The recent "agreement" (the terms of which are unknown and perhaps unknowable given the wide divergence between American and Iranian descriptions of what has been concluded) makes no reference to any limitations on Iran's ballistic missile program, on which it works closely with North Korea. (The current Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter supported a pre-emptive strike on North Korea's long-range missiles in 2006.)
Iran may soon possess long-range missiles capable of reaching the United States or the capacity to launch a nuclear-armed satellite above the United States. Even one nuclear weapon detonated above the United States could potentially knock out much of the national power grid. The congressional EMP Commission estimated that a nationwide blackout lasting one year from such an EMP attack could result in the deaths of nine out of ten Americans, with IS-like gangs ruling the streets.
HAVING ADMITTED THAT IRAN will be capable of producing nuclear weapons, does President Obama offer any coherent explanation of why they will not do so? Only that having entered an agreement with the United States the Iranians will somehow be mellowed and become upstanding citizens of the international community. That is the same type of magical thinking about the power of signed agreements that pervaded the Oslo process until its utter collapse. That thinking commands virtually no support among Middle East experts, including numerous leading former members of the president's foreign policy and defense teams.
Even the president concedes Iran will not mellow that much: It would be unfair, he said, to demand the Iranians renounce their calls for the obliteration of Israel; that would be asking the mullahs to stop being themselves.
As Kissinger and Schultz put it delicately, "There exists no current evidence that Iran and the U.S. are remotely near an understanding [of what defines stability]. . . . Iran's representatives (including its Supreme Leader) continue to profess a revolutionary anti-Western concept of international order; . . . some senior Iranians describe nuclear negotiations as a form of jihad by other means."
The president's self-estimation of his unique foreign policy insight is not widely shared. His former ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey describes his Middle East policy as a "free fall," and Lt. General Michael Flynn, his former head of U.S. Defense Intelligence, characterizes it as one of "willful ignorance."
Yale's Walter Russell Mead has taken to charting in The American Interest the critiques of former senior policymakers of their erstwhile boss, whom Mead describes as President Ahab glancing around the deck only to find that his shipmates are all scrambling for the lifeboats.
In particular, Mead takes Obama to task for falling prey to the illusion common among liberals that they can do better in negotiations with enemies who chant "Death to America!" than more hard-line conservatives by being nice and understanding. Supreme Leader Ali Khameini has proclaimed the negotiations with the United States to be part of a struggle with an enemy, writes Mead, and Obama would be well-advised to take him at his word. It is American power Iran seeks to break, he argues. And to do so, the Iranians will use negotiations to humiliate Obama just as they did when they repeatedly double-crossed Jimmy Carter by dragging out hostage negotiations to make him look weak.
Obama has bet the fate of the world on his ability to pacify Iran with kindness. It is too big a gamble, especially in light of the president's track record of foreign policy insight.
A nuclear Iran will create a world with as many trip wires as Europe in August 1914 on the eve of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand. Only this time, the combatants will be playing with nuclear arsenals.
Let us stipulate that only a military attack on its nuclear installations can stop Iran. Sanctions alone, without a credible military threat, will not convince the Supreme Leader to abandon a dream that goes back to the early days of the Islamic Revolution any more than mass starvation convinced North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program. And let us further stipulate that such an attack will have consequences, both unpredictable and unpleasant.
Nevertheless the United States undoubtedly has the power to destroy much of Iran's nuclear infrastructure from the air, and many of the Revolutionary Guard's assets for good measure. Former Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said this week that for America doing so would only be marginally more challenging than killing Osama bin Laden once his hiding place was discovered. 'At least that was the case until Vladimir Putin agreed to go forward with the sale of advanced anti-aircraft systems to Iran – the only tangible result of the Lausanne "agreement" so far.
In light of the perilous threat of a nuclear Iran, the proper question is not, "What is the alternative to the agreement?" but rather "What is the alternative to a military attack?"