Friday, February 2, 2007

Chirac Goes Nuclear

There are no do-overs in life and politics, according to Hillary Clinton. Apparently, nobody passed the word to Jacques Chirac. In an interview given to the Times, the IHT and the Nouvel Obs on Monday, Chirac raised some eyebrows with his comments about a nuclear Iran. On Tuesday, he hurriedly called the reporters back to the Elysée to retract and amend the offending comments. He claimed he had believed he was speaking off the record, and that the remarks were not reflective of either French policy or his own opinion.

Too bad, because they're kind of refreshing in their candor, and they don't strike me as being so far off the mark:

"I would say that what is dangerous about this situation is not the fact of having a nuclear bomb... But what is very dangerous is proliferation..."

Chirac explained that it would be an act of self-destruction for Iran to use a nuclear weapon against another country. "Where will it drop it, this bomb? On Israel?" Chirac asked. "It would not have gone off 200 meters into the atmosphere before Tehran would be razed to the ground..."

During the Monday interview, Chirac made clear that a more profound problem than Iran's possession of a nuclear weapon was that a nuclear-armed Iran might encourage other regional players to follow suit.

"...Why wouldn't Saudi Arabia do it? Why wouldn't it help Egypt to do so as well? That is the real danger."

You don't expect a guy who's been in politics as long as Jacques Chirac has (40 years) to make that kind of blunder. Which leads me to wonder whether it really was a blunder. Despite the hurried retraction and universal disavowal, Chirac's point strikes me as valid, namely that in a region like the Middle East, a nuclear bomb is more of an insurance policy than a threat. But the resulting instability due to proliferation drastically reduces even the security function.

Intelligence estimates vary wildly on how far away the Iranians are from having a bomb, but there doesn't seem to be much doubt that that's the direction they're heading in. And with the current political climate vis à vis pre-emptive military interventions, there may not be anything we can do to stop it.

So why not a little slip of the tongue to let the Iranians (and the Saudis and Egyptians) know that, sure, they might get a bomb eventually. But when they do, the rules of nuclear engagement, ie. mutually assured destruction, will apply.

Posted by Judah in:  International Relations   Iran   

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