Politics & Prose August 2005

Cold War II

With Iran, the only choices left are war and nuclear deterrence. And war is not the answer

President Bush's threat to attack Iran threatens the United States. The consequences of a new war in the Middle East—for that is what it would be, with Iran fighting back with terrorism—need no listing. Striking a second Muslim country while occupying Iraq would be a ramifying blunder, spreading death far into the century, holding our children and their children hostage to Bush's catastrophic presidency.

If Iran is building a nuclear weapon, Bush is responsible. First, he grouped Iran with Iraq and North Korea in the "axis of evil," a gratuitous and counter-productive provocation. Then he announced a new U.S. strategy: pre-emption. The U.S. gave itself the right to strike countries suspected of harboring terrorists or weapons of mass destruction without any act of belligerence on their part. Threatening pre-emption, critics warned, would motivate the axis of evil countries to rapidly develop nuclear weapons to deter a U.S. attack, as North Korea appears to have done. Next Bush implemented this new strategy, making "preventive war" on Iraq. Saddam had a nuclear program, went the logic of the administration's case for war. Unless we "took him out" Saddam would have a nuclear weapon within a few years. He could then deter pre-emption while sharing his largesse with terrorists who would attack the United States with nuclear weapons. The case for war reinforced the message sent to Tehran by the war itself: in order to deter attack from a superpower following a strategy of pre-emption and imperialism (a.k.a. "regime change"), go nuclear.

The U.S. occupation of Iraq has been a deliverance for the mullahs ruling Iran. They founded their claim to legitimacy on their resistance to a U.S.-backed dictator; they came to power in 1979 behind student demonstrators shouting "Death to the U.S.!," and "Death to the Shah!"; they invoke the Great Satan to distract the Iranian people from their repression. Bush's threat last week renews the regime's nationalist bona fides. If he bombs the Iranian nuclear reactors, the mullahs will be in power for generations.

Will Bush do it? He does not have to face the voters again; that political check is gone. His supine party controls the Congress; that institutional check is gone. War cemented Bush's presidency. Before September 11 he was the least legitimate president since "Rutherfraud" B. Hayes, installed in the White House by the vote of a Republican Supreme Court justice, Joseph P. Bradley, who was the Clarence Thomas of 1877. As the Downing Street memo indicates, the climate of fear generated by the looming war with Iraq helped the GOP recapture the Senate in 2002, as Karl Rove calculated. The war in Iraq, which the administration spun as the main battlefield in the "war on terror," re-elected Bush in 2004. Iraq has since become a political wound for Bush and a liability for his party. Cutting and running look to be in the cards there. To cover his retreat from an Iraq collapsing into civil war, Bush will need to look strong. Republicans need fear to prevail in next year's elections— to mask the debacle of Iraq.

Presented by

Jack Beatty is a senior editor at The Atlantic Monthly and the editor of Colossus: How the Corporation Changed America, which was named one of the top ten books of 2001 by Business Week. His previous books are The World According to Peter Drucker (1998) and The Rascal King: The Life and Times of James Michael Curley (1992). More

Jack Beatty"The Atlantic Monthly is an American tradition; since 1857 it has helped to shape the American mind and conscience," senior editor Jack Beatty explains. "We are proud of that tradition. It is the tradition of excellence for which we were awarded the National Magazine Award for General Excellence. It is the tie that binds us to our past. It is a standard we won't betray."

Beatty joined The Atlantic Monthly as a senior editor in September of 1983, having previously worked as a book reviewer at Newsweek and as the literary editor of The New Republic.

Born, raised, and educated in Boston, Beatty wrote a best-selling biography of James Michael Curley, the Massachusetts congressman and governor and Boston mayor, which Addison-Wesley published in 1992 to enthusiastic reviews. The Washington Post said, "The Rascal King is an exemplary political biography. It is thorough, balanced, reflective, and gracefully written." The Chicago Sun-Times called it a ". . . beautifully written, richly detailed, vibrant biography." The book was nominated for a National Book Critics' Circle award.

His 1993 contribution to The Atlantic Monthly's Travel pages, "The Bounteous Berkshires," earned these words of praise from The Washington Post: "The best travel writers make you want to travel with them. I, for instance, would like to travel somewhere with Jack Beatty, having read his superb account of a cultural journey to the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts." Beatty is also the author of The World According to Peter Drucker, published in 1998 by The Free Press and called "a fine intellectual portrait" by Michael Lewis in the New York Times Book Review.

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