November 5, 2007

99 Problems but Iran Ain’t One

Print More

These days the foreign policy debate is all about Iran. If you have ever seen the cheesiest movie ever made, Armageddon, Iran is the equivalent of the huge asteroid that the whole world is trying to stop in its tracks. However, instead of sending Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck to stop Iran (the proverbial asteroid), we are sending the likes of George Bush, Rudy Giuliani, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama. While we actually may be better off appointing Bruce Willis and Matt Damon’s sidekick to stop Iran, we need to put everything in perspective. Without a doubt, the Middle East has become a tinder box with Iran at the center of it all, but our real problems lie in Pakistan and Asia. If our relations with these places take a backseat to Iran, we run the risk of being blindsided by problems in this area of the world.
The main concern with Iran is its nuclear weapons program, but Pakistan and North Korea already have nuclear weapons and they are far more unstable and hostile than Iran. According to the National Intelligence Estimate, Iran is approximately 10 years away from building a nuclear weapon. Relations with Iran are a key component to U.S. success in the Middle East, especially Iraq. However, Iran is a cultured and sophisticated society with some moderate elements. Although handling Iran is very difficult, the country is not on the verge of either collapsing or constructing a nuclear weapon. Some may say that Ahmadinejad is a madman who will stop at nothing to destroy Israel and the United States. This may be true, but he is not even the most powerful man in Iran and there are signs that his people are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with him. Handling Iran is a delicate situation but there is room to work and there are far more dangerous nations that we should concentrate our efforts on.
Pakistan is a highly unstable country and North Korea is ruled by a man who has no responsibility but plenty of nuclear weapons. Just this week, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf declared a state of emergency and martial law throughout the country. The U.S.-friendly Musharraf is on the brink of losing control over his country, and there is a significant possibility that extremist forces will rule Pakistan. North Korea is a country in poverty, with a large military force and a leader who does not have to answer to his people. To the credit of the Bush Administration, some progress in North Korea has been made. Yet, far more needs to be done to get North Korea under control and many of the agreements of the six-party talks have yet to be finalized. Pakistan and North Korea present many problems even without considering the fact that both countries have nuclear weapons. We need to focus our efforts on these countries simply because they pose far greater and immediate threats than Iran.
Due to the superpower status of the U.S., it is involved in nearly all parts of the world. I would disagree with those who believe that Iran needs most of our attention right now. Nonetheless, if we are to focus our attention in this region of the world, it should be not as much on Iran as on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is the only thing that seems to unite the quarrelling nations of the Middle East. If the U.S. could somehow manufacture peace or something of the sort between the Israelis and the Palestinians, it would greatly improve the situation there. Brokering an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will give the U.S. more leverage in dealing with Iran and will give America more discretion in who it supports in the Middle East. Even in this region of the world, Iran should be something of a secondary concern for the U.S.
Without a doubt, Iran should be taken seriously; it cannot be allowed to have nuclear weapons, and it cannot be allowed to continue funding terrorists. If Iran is put on the back burner the U.S. may alienate the Iranians. With all of that said, however, in the immediate future there are far greater problems. If Bush and the presidential candidates are so concerned with nuclear weapons, as they should be, they need to divert their attention to Pakistan and North Korea. Pakistan is on the verge of turmoil and North Korea has not disarmed nearly enough. Maybe it turns out that Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck really are our best hopes. After all, they did save the world, all while looking good and making millions.