The Skeptics

America May Push Iran Into Becoming the Next Nuclear Crisis

Admittedly, there is a risk that Iran could venture down the same path as North Korea toward the goal of a nuclear-weapons capability. But hawks learn the wrong lesson from Pyongyang’s behavior. Given the way Washington has treated such nonnuclear adversaries as Serbia, Iraq and Libya, North Korea’s desire for a nuclear deterrent is hardly irrational. Belligerent rhetoric coming from influential figures such as John McCain, Tom Cotton and Lindsey Graham (and their neoconservative allies) heightens the Kim regime’s paranoia. To a considerable extent, the United States has brought this problem on itself. Explicitly repudiating the goal of forcible regime change toward countries that are on bad terms with Washington might help reduce the incentive of those governments to develop nuclear arsenals.

Finally, even if the United States continues its misguided, sterile policy of isolating North Korea, much less embracing the perilous option of resorting to war, the adverse consequences of adopting the same tactics toward Iran would be much worse. North Korea is an obnoxious little state, but it has little significance beyond its immediate neighborhood. In terms of being an economic power, Pyongyang is a joke, and its political or diplomatic appeal scarcely reaches that level.

Matters are quite different with Iran. Like it or not, that country is a major diplomatic, military and economic player throughout the Middle East—and even into Central and Southwest Asia. As the principal representative of Islam’s Shia branch, Tehran exercises considerable influence in such countries as Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Bahrain and Yemen. Trying to isolate Iran has been—and will continue to be—an exercise in futility. And launching a military attack on that country would trigger another disastrous war in the Middle East. The course with which the Trump administration seems to be flirting should be avoided at all costs. The president must not listen to the siren call of reckless hawks who have been wrong about so many different issues.

Ted Galen Carpenter, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and a contributing editor at the National Interest, is the author of ten books, the contributing editor of ten books and the author of more than 650 articles on international affairs.

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