I am beginning to get that odd feeling I had in December 2002 and January 2003. At the time, everyone who mattered–except the prominent weapons inspectors who knew what they were talking about–was positive those WMDs were there. After hearing this stuff for months, along with other equally unpersuasive pro-war arguments, I began to think that the Iraqis just might be telling the truth. Maybe Iraq really was disarmed. Wouldn’t that be a hoot? And, as it turned out, those few inspectors who rejected the official story were proved right and my strange intuition that the jingoes were full of it turned out to be correct.
Now it occurs to me, on Apocalypse Day itself, that besides being ridiculously alarmist and exaggerating everything threatening about Iran to put it in the worst possible light (that sounds familiar) the same sort of rock-solid certainty about Iran’s nuclear program is carrying the day. Just suppose–and I know it’s difficult for those who can’t grasp the idea that some people prefer rigorous, even draconian religion to “freedom”–that Iran really does just want a nuclear program for energy. That would make a great many important people look very foolish (again), which is one reason why nobody entertains the thought for very long.
Of course, in Iran’s case there is a real possibility of using a civil nuclear program to create a weapons program, and Iran has strategic interests that make acquiring these weapons understandable and even, in a sense, rational. They might, like Pakistan did, be playing the world for fools, buying time and waiting for the moment to unveil their nuke program. But what is so amazing about the entire debate going on in the West is that none of us–including the government that supposedly “knows more than we do” as the delightfully servile phrase has it–has any reliable information to confirm this theory, except that we think their President is looney, our government despises theirs and many of us actually believe that Iranians–and we’re talking about Iranians here–are some set of wild-eyed, suicidal maniacs who will just as soon annihilate themselves in some kamikaze nuclear war as look at us. In just the same way that the government railroaded the country into a war in Iraq on premises that were always preposterous, the administration and a sizeable part of the population of this country are once again positive that they know what Iran intends, when we are merely supposing and guessing–just as we did with Iraq. In fact, what is going on is the making of policy based in paranoia and fear, which is by definition not all together rational or well considered.
For that matter, suppose that Ahmadinejad is just a replaceable, demagogic blowhard with no real control and whose rants have no implications for real-world policy. His bluster could just as easily be propaganda, or a calculated scheme to intimidate neighbours or designed for public consumption to keep the ordinary folks placated. The masses in every country love to hear their president sock it to some dastardly firenghis and show “strength” by blowing a lot of hot air about future victories. It is probably like Arab solidarity with the Palestinians–completely meaningless, but something that all public figures are required to engage in (like a Republican in the primaries saying how much he respects the sanctity of life, for example) to retain a certain level of credibility with their populations.