Thursday, September 17, 2009

Israel will attack a nuclear I.R. Iran

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The Times

If Iran gets nuclear weapons, Israel will make a military attack on it. That was the most dramatic pronouncement from the launch of the strategic survey from the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), its annual stocktaking of the world’s problems. “Israel will not tolerate Iran having a nuclear weapon,” said Mark Fitzpatrick, its proliferation specialist and a well-known analyst of Iran. Fitzpatrick, a former State Department official, has argued that Iran could be in a position to make a nuclear weapon within President Obama’s first term. He has also argued, sensibly, that efforts should focus on drawing a “red line” between being able to make a weapon and actually doing so. A second conclusion was that most or all troops should leave Afghanistan in two years, leaving development as the main foreign effort. John Chipman, the think-tank’s director, acknowledged that development was now possible only with security provided by foreign troops.

His report understates this point. But if you put those two headlines together, you do capture something of the ambivalent tone about the state of the world — and about the US’s influence — of this report. A year after economic crisis forced itself on the attention of every leader, pushing aside nearly a decade of preoccupation with terrorism, that tone seems right. The US, despite its surge in Afghanistan, may be in deliberate retreat from other problems — unless they are thrust upon it, as in the risk of an Iranian nuclear weapon, or an Israeli attack on Iran. Obama may argue “Yes, we can” within the US, said Chipman, but increasingly “No, we can’t” abroad. Should this be a portrait of the US in decline? The report notes the rise of the G20, although with a coda that its size and the clash of members’ interests makes pacts elusive. It chides the US for “its decision to carry out a primarily military campaign against terrorist groups [which] had exposed the limits of what America’s military potency could achieve”.

This seems a shift for the IISS, which after all brought us the “dossier” warning of Iraq’s weapons that so heavily influenced Tony Blair. Yet excessive definiteness, in the world of think-tanks, seems a virtue; at least it is saying something clearly enough that it might later be judged wrong. Or right. The report surely catches the proper cool view of US prospects in noting that “over the long term, it seems logical that the relative position of the US could not remain what it was immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union ... But the very attention paid around the world to the election of Barack Obama showed that America was far from being just another power”. The weakness is in understating how well China has managed the global crisis. It is easy to exaggerate China’s success but, all the same, its growth has accelerated in recent months and it looks set to beat easily the 8 per cent target for the year that looked so testing. Inevitably, its influence will strengthen.