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Classical perspective on Iran

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A recent plethora of blogging activity (plus, I suppose, the capture of Saddam Hussein) is pushing Iran into the spotlight of the blogosphere.

Iran is Persia, of course, and more than perhaps any country, Persia looks both East and West. This has been the case since antiquity. I have discussed Persian history before in this blog, and I wish I had the time to really study it in detail, because unlike Western history (punctuated as it is by a major cultural gap between the ancient period and the Renaissance), Persia has remained Persia — a proud and rich culture — for thousands of years.

While it isn’t especially the purpose of this post to discuss Iranian-Indian relations, studying the inextricably interrelated history these two countries share was an eye-opener in itself. Religions, philosophies, art, literature, architecture, language — all of that which we call “culture” has been in a constant state of mutual influence over the millenia.

For a very rich summary of the history of the Iranian-Indian relationship, I highly recommend reading parts ONE and TWO of this gem. It’s a shame Americans aren’t taught more about this subject, as it is very rich.

Clearly, Iran occupies a very special place in the history of human culture. It is a shame that the country is still dominated by medieval mullahs whose system of tyranny has so little popular support that it must rely on terrorism to maintain its tentative grip on power.

Most of the Iranian regime’s support for terrorism is so well documented that to discuss it in detail would bore my readers. Besides, this is not a foreign policy blog, but offers radical American centrism from an ancient perspective.

And right now, the ancients seem to be demanding that I do my damned job, and I dare not refuse. For I have a terrible feeling that if I could summon a Roman general — let’s say, Agrippa — from the grave today and present what we know (or strongly suspect) about Iran to him, he would say that the time has come for some type of urgent action.

Here’s why: the worst case scenario America could face is not a repeat of September 11, but a nuclear attack by terrorists. No government is crazy enough or strong enough to launch a nuclear attack against the United States — and that is what it takes: craziness plus capability. Terrorists have the craziness in spades. They’d love to nuke us, and have said so many times. They lack the nukes to do it. (So far, at least.)

Consider the following two points:

  • Point One.
  • Iran is close to having a nuclear arsenal. Whether or not it is secretly enriching uranium, it has precursor materials as well as a nuclear reactor. According to the Department of State,

    Iran has acknowledged both the heavy water production plant at Arak and the uranium enrichment facility at Natanz, but did so only after their existence was disclosed to the press in August 2002 by an Iranian opposition group.

    Aside from a small IAEA-safeguarded “zero-power” research reactor located at the Esfahan Nuclear Technology Center, Iran has no known heavy water reactor and no need for an indigenous source of heavy water. Iran’s only nuclear power reactor expected to become operational within the next decade is the light-water reactor under construction with Russian help at Bushehr. This raises serious questions about Iran’s intentions in constructing an industrial-scale heavy water production plant at Arak. Heavy-water moderated reactors are better suited for plutonium production than are light water reactors. We believe Iran’s true intent is to develop the capability to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons, using both the plutonium route (supported ultimately by a heavy-water research reactor) and the highly enriched uranium route (supported by a gas centrifuge enrichment plant).

    Iran has also confirmed to the IAEA that it is constructing a gas centrifuge uranium enrichment facility near the town of Natanz. Although Iran initially delayed the visit, IAEA Director General ElBaradei visited the Natanz site in late February and found what appeared to be a “sophisticated” centrifuge uranium enrichment program. We are deeply concerned at Iran’s efforts to build that facility clandestinely, and believe there is no logical reason for Iran to pursue uranium enrichment other than to support a weapons capability, especially in light of Russia’s pledge to provide all the fuel for the lifetime of the Bushehr reactor.

    There has been a great deal of speculation as to why Iran would be developing nuclear power considering its oil reserves, and Stefan Sharkansky has questioned whether a weapons program makes any sense in light of Israeli deterrence. Of course, Ayatollah Rafsanjani has urged Muslims to use nuclear weapons against Israel, but that is not the same as saying Iran intends to do it directly.

    Well, how about indirectly? This leads to my other point.

  • Point Two
  • There is accumulating evidence that the top leadership of al Qaida is now located in Iran. Accounts vary as to exactly who is there, how long they have been there, or the details of their residence, but I think there are too many reports to be ignored. (See al Jazeera, Fox News, Two stories in The Hindu, WorldNetDaily — as well as BLOG-IRAN.)

    What alarms me the most is the presence — for some time now — of Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s partner, a man considered more dangerous and more intelligent than bin Laden. I doubt there is anyone alive who would be more delighted at any chance to obtain nuclear material for use in the United States.

    The fact that Iran has nuclear material of any sort is cause for major concern. The fact that Iran has the brains of al Qaida there is cause for even more major concern.

    But, taken together, the two are intolerable.

    Whether Zawahiri left or not (this report states he left together with the notorious psychopathic torturer Imad Mughniyah) does not really matter. Rather, the evidence establishes friendly relations between al Qaida and the Iranian government.

    There are too many ways to move nuclear material in this world. The Iranian mullahs, if they are smart (which I think they are) could well be contemplating a sort of indirect nuclear blackmail program to save their regime. The United States government (at least, according to this reasoning) would do almost anything to prevent a terrorist nuclear attack, including make a deal to keep the mullahs in power. And if the deal included handing over al Qaida leaders (with purloined material), the Iranian “moderates” could come out smelling like a rose.

    And the Iranian people would continue to live under tyranny.

    (I hate to be so cynical, but it wouldn’t be the first time the United States fell for Iran’s good-cop/bad-cop routine….)

    What would Agrippa do? He’d go Roman on ’em, of course. He wouldn’t wait around for nukes….

    Of course, the Romans didn’t have to worry about things like International Law.

    They were International Law.

    NOTE: The above post can also be read at my blog.

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    About Eric Scheie

    • Chris Arabia

      This was interesting. Thanks.

    • Eric Olsen

      Very interesting and well done E, thanks!