“The Iranian bomb or the bombing of Iran.”
With the first option soon a horrifying reality, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner strongly indicated this week his country is willing to choose the latter course of action to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Last Sunday, Kouchner told listeners of a talk show that the world would be in danger if Iran ever got the bomb; and since the mullah state has defied all international efforts to halt its nuclear arms acquisition effort, especially its very advanced uranium enrichment program, the terrible option of war must now be seriously considered.
“We have to prepare for the worst, and the worst is war,” said Kouchner, adding however that the door to negotiations must be kept open until the last minute.
Nevertheless, France’s willingness to finally line up with America to prevent Iran’s Islamist regime from acquiring nuclear weapons probably came as a surprise to many in a country well-known for its anti-Americanism, especially among its elites. But the situation is obviously changing under new French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, the son of Hungarian immigrants and France’s most pro-American ruler in a long time.
Sarkozy, from whom the column’s beginning quote originates, spoke these tough words last August at an annual meeting of French ambassadors where he called Iran’s nuclear arms program “the world’s most dangerous problem.” The French president also termed the Islamist regime’s possession of the bomb “unacceptable.” But while calling for tighter sanctions, the French leader offered Iran a carrot in the form of incentives to discontinue its efforts to acquire an atomic weapon.
“This initiative is the only one that can enable us to escape an alternative that I say is catastrophic: the Iranian bomb or the bombing of Iran,” he said.
Iran, naturally, was very unhappy with Kouchner’s remarks. An angry Iranian media accused Sarkozy of “slavishly aping the Americans” and Iran’s state-run news agency may have been referring to the French president’s Jewish heritage (Sarkozy’s maternal grandfather was Jewish) when it said he now had “an American skin” and France would regret the day “when a non-European moved into the Elysee” (the French presidential residence). The Iranian government’s anti-Semitism is well known, it having once hosted a Holocaust-denial conference.
France’s adopting a strong position on the Iranian nuclear arms issue can only strengthen the chance, however small, that the Iranian-West standoff can be settled peacefully. Two weeks ago, Hashemi Rafsanjami, a former Iranian president who has ties to Europe, especially to Germany, was chosen to head a leading, Iranian clerical body. One observer believes Sarkozy’s tough stance against the Iranian nuclear weapons program may have caused Rafsanjami’s return to this “position of influence”, from which, the Europeans hope, he may replace the current Iranian president, Mahmud Ahmadinejad.
But even a militarily united West will probably not deter Iran’s volatile Ahmadinejad from his goal of acquiring the bomb. Firstly, Ahmadinejad, who has already threatened to annihilate Israel in a nuclear holocaust, is very ideologically driven. The Iranian president belongs to the first generation of Iranian Islamic revolutionaries, who, like the communist first generation revolutionaries, are capable of committing any barbarity in the name of their beliefs. Even the first generation of Chinese communist revolutionaries, when in their eighties, did not hesitate to murder thousands of students on Tien An Min Square in 1989. But unlike the communists, who did not believe in heaven and tried to build paradise in this world and thus would not risk nuclear war, the Islamist revolutionaries like Ahmadinejad do not seem to mind creating a hell here on earth, nuclear or otherwise, to get into their distorted version of paradise.
As well, as one observer pointed out, with a failing economy badly hit by international sanctions, a youth unemployment rate estimated between 30 and 50 per cent, runaway inflation and a lack of exports except for oil, the reserves of which are expected to be severely depleted as early as 2020, the radicals in the Iranian leadership may be in the mood for embarking on a military adventure against the hated West and Israel rather than see their state collapse without a fight, like the Soviet Union. Besides, if the Iranian regime chooses not fight and caves in to the threat of a western and Israeli attack, abandoning its nuclear weapons program, it may still fall because of the disgrace it will have suffered.
In its quest to solve the Iranian issue peacefully, the American government told Tehran recently that “all options are on the table.” However, the bottom line of American foreign policy for the region is that Iran will not be allowed to possess nuclear weapons, making war against the mullah regime a highly likely.
Very fortunately, that also now seems to be the policy French President Sarkozy, who, since taking office last May, seems to be bringing some common sense back to French foreign policy and standing with America. Hopefully, the French leader will continue in this favorable vein when he appears before the United Nations General Assembly in New York next Monday to deliver what should be a very interesting speech. Stay tuned.