New America Media, Commentary/Analysis, Amir Soltani Sheikholeslami and William Beeman
Editors Note: One little-noted aspect of last monthâ€™s CNN Republican presidential debate was that five out of nine candidates endorsed a pre-emptive nuclear strike to keep Iran from gaining nuclear weapons. Two other candidates offered no objections. Only one candidate, citing his Christian faith, declared himself unequivocally opposed. Amir Soltani Sheikholeslami, monitors Middle Eastern affairs and media for NAM.
Dr. Muhammad El-Baradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency and co-winner of the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize, warned on a recent BBC interview that the world risked a war with Iran because of â€œnew crazies.â€
Asked who the new crazies were, El Baradei refused to point a finger. But the BBC interviewer did not have to look far.
Five of nine Republican presidential nominees – in a CNN televised debate on June 5 – underscored their readiness to authorize a pre-emptive nuclear attack on Iran if thatâ€™s what it would take to prevent the Islamic Republic from having a nuclear bomb.
Congressman Duncan Hunter of California, former Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, declared that â€œI would authorize the use of tactical nuclear weapons if there was no other way to preempt those particular centrifuges.â€
Former New York Mayor Rudolph Guliani was quick to echo his rival: â€œI think it could be done with conventional weapons, but you canâ€™t rule out anything and you shouldnâ€™t take any option off the table.â€
Virginia Governor James Gilmore said that while he supported negotiations with Iran, â€œWeâ€™re also going to say that having a nuclear weapon is unacceptable. They need to understand it. All options are on the table in that instance.â€
Asked whether he agreed â€œwith the mayor, the governor, others here, that the use of tactical nuclear weapons, potentially, would be possible if that were the only way to stop Iran from developing a nuclear bomb?â€, current frontrunner Gov. Mitt Romney replied:
â€œYou canâ€™t take options off the table.â€
Two other candidates – Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas and Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas – werenâ€™t asked for their opinion on the issue but offered no objections to their rival candidates. A third – Sen. John McCain of Arizona – had already set the tone for the debate by adapting his slogan â€œ Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran!â€ to the Beach Boyâ€™s surfer anthem.
Media post-mortems on the CNN debate were eerily silent about the near-total Republican consensus. Yet the endorsement of a pre-emptive nuclear strike represented a radical break with basic doctrine and established principles of arms control, deterrence and containment.
The non-use pledge – also known as the Negative Security Assuranceâ€ issued in 1978 and recognized under UN Security Council Resolution 984 extending the Non- Proliferation Treaty – is clear and unequivocal.
â€œThe United States reaffirms that it will not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons state parties to the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons, except in the case of invasion or any other attack on the United States, its territories, armed forces or other troops, its allies, or on a state towards which it has a security commitment carried out, or sustained by such a nuclear weapon state in association or alliance with a nuclear weapon state.â€
Under the doctrine of â€œstrategic ambiguityâ€ US officials have qualified the non-use pledge by reserving the right to use nuclear weapons in response to specific perceived threats from chemical and biological weapons.
But even at the height of the Cold War, many traditional conservatives, including ranking generals and scientists, have consistently and repeatedly reviewed and rejected all arguments in favor of the pre-emptive use of WMD, especially tactical nuclear weapons.
In his 2003 policy paper titled â€œMini-Nukes and Preemptive Policy: A Dangerous Combination,â€ director of defense policy studies at the Cato Institute Charles V. Pena warned that mini-nukes and pre-emption would undermine homeland security by increasing the chances of a first strike against the United States.
To extend Harvard professor Joseph Nyeâ€™s analogy about terrorism as the privatization of warfare, the adoption of mini-nukes is a harbinger of the privatization of nuclear warfare and terrorism by non-state actors – not all of them foreign.
Far from promoting democracy, threatening the Iranian people with nuclear strikes is strengthening Tehranâ€™s claims about the satanic nature of American power. The immediate impact is on two Iranian-Americans currently held in Evin prion, Dr. Haleh Esfandiari, Director of the Middle East Programs at the Woodrow Wilson Institute, and Dr. Kian Tajbakhsh of the Soros Institute.
Fortunately, the last word on nuking Iran in the CNN debate went to Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul of Texas. Asked what he saw as the most pressing moral issue facing the United States, Paul said:
â€œI think it is the acceptance just recently that we now promote preemptive war. I do not believe thatâ€™s part of the American tradition…And now, tonight, we hear that weâ€™re not even willing to remove from the table a preemptive nuclear strike against a country that has done no harm to us directly and is no threat to our national security!â€
Paul won a round of applause from the New Hampshire Republicans in the studio audience.