Bibi and Johnny

Bibi and Johnny
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If you have a moment to spare after solving the Syrian crisis, maybe you can help the world solve the Iranian one, too?

In a brazen display of chutzpah (although I’m sure he wouldn’t call it that) Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad held a big photo op on Wednesday to brag about all the progress his nation has made in its ongoing efforts to enrich uranium. Decked out in a white lab coat, he proudly toured a Tehran facility claiming to have just finished production of the first Iranian-made, weapons-grade nuclear fuel rods, and announced that his government was set to begin the production of yellowcake too, which, as we may recall from Valerie Plame-gate, is a vital ingredient in the construction of a nuclear bomb.

The Israelis, it is widely suspected, have been doing their best to thwart all this, and are assumed to be behind the four “mysterious” assassinations of leading Iranian nuclear scientists that have taken place over the last two years. Small wonder, then, that a string of equally “mysterious” follow-up attacks against Israeli targets this week, in Georgia, Thailand, and India, have been seen as the latest escalation in what is fast becoming a very hot cold war between the two Middle-Eastern powers.

As Iran grows more open about its nuclear ambitious and the rest of the world grows more wary and frightened, the new pressing question is fast becoming “when exactly are you at war?” Certainly there have been no shortages of lines drawn in the sand; the major western powers have all repeatedly demanded Iran stop what it’s doing, and have imposed increasingly harsher and harsher sanctions when they haven’t. The Europeans are poised to impose a complete embargo on Iranian oil this July, and Japan has already reduced its imports by 40% over the last five years. Put together, this has caused a 75% market decline for Iran’s biggest — and indeed, basically only— foreign export, but we’re not done yet!

The Belgian-based Society for Worldwide International Financial Telecommunication is moving to blacklist Iranian banks from its network, making it increasingly difficult for Iranians to access foreign currency, and the White House has frozen all Iranian assets in the United States. Even good old Canada has blocked “virtually all financial transactions with Iran.”

Many news reports now make mention of the fact that Iran’s economy is “crumbling,” or, at the very least, is at one of its lowest lows. Day-to-day business in the country has become deeply arduous and frustrating as a result of the punitive web of restrictions and bans that now strangle so much of Iran’s trade and banking infrastructure, the currency has tanked causing huge inflation, and some reports suggest the nation has resorted to bartering with its few remaining friends simply to import food.

Satisfying though they may be on a purely vindictive level, sanctions have an overall mixed legacy when it comes to securing meaningful change in the behavior of rogue regimes, however. At best, history has proven that in cases where the national leadership is reasonably pragmatic and moderate, as in apartheid-era South Africa under President de Klerk, outwardly-imposed economic hardship can, in fact, beget political reform, but in cases where the leadership is dogmatic and indifferent to anything but its own glory and survival, as in sanctioned-choked Baathist Iraq and modern-day North Korea, financial turmoil merely imposes a new burden on an already long-suffering people.

Israel, for its part, seems unwilling to take a chance with either proposition. A fascinating story out of the London Guardian framed the entire sanctions drive as little more than an anxious stalling tactic on the part of the western powers to distract the Jewish state into delaying a unilateral military strike as long as possible. Among other things, President Obama is said to decidedly not want an Israeli-Iranian war to break out during his bid for re-election, since it would be almost impossible to frame a sane American response in the midst of what would no-doubt be an extraordinarily polarizing moment between left and right.

Unlike Syria, which, at worst, is simply a localized bloodbath that will eventually bleed itself out, the Iranian standoff is a true dilemma with profound consequences for global stability. At some point, something will simply have to happen; either nukes, a war, or a nuclear war.

What would be your guess?


  1. StevieZ

    The Iranians haven't made any weapons-grade uranium yet. Although their fuel rods are more enriched than necessary for nuclear fuel production, they are still about 70% away from achieving weapons grade concentration of U235.

  2. Jeff

    The same level of technical sophistication is needed to enrich to any level; 3.5, 20, 90% are all achievable with the same equipment.

    The big worry is that by beginning to stockpile 20% enriched material Iran shrinks the time it requires in a "breakout" scenario to obtain a nuclear weapon. This is because by the time you've enriched uranium to 20% you've done about 90% of the separative work required to get it to weapons grade, if that makes sense. Instead of requiring tons of natural uranium and a large facility to do the enrichment, you can obtain enough weapons-grade uranium for a device from about 110 kg of 20% enriched material and a much smaller and much more easily concealable facility.

  3. Benjamin Allen Whetham

    "This is because by the time you've enriched uranium to 20% you've done about 90% of the separative work required to get it to weapons grade, if that makes sense."

    Are you in favor of bombing Brazil and Chile? Both countries, like Iran, do not allow full inspections, but allow partial inspections and monitoring. A great many nations have this capability that you seem to think is so special. We know that Iran stopped its nuclear program in 2003 and their nuclear material has all been accounted for. Are people really gonna fall for "Iraq 2.0"?

    It's the 1960's again. The warmongers then were talking about what disasters will come if we allow China to develop a nuclear weapon. Heck, go back only a few years when it was India and Pakistan getting nukes. Even if Iran developed a nuke, So what? They sure aren't gonna turn it over to the militants any more than China was going to give a nuke to the North Vietnamese in the 1960's or the US give one to the Mujaheddin in the 1980's. Real life is not a Tom Clancy novel.

    The reality is that the worst that will happen is our bloodthirsty leaders will have one less country they can bomb when their poll numbers get too low. The only thing that an Iranian nuke would do is put a check on US aggression. They are already hemmed in by Pakistan and Israel.

  4. David

    So, is this the 2010s Bay of Pigs (the hottest the Cold War ever got to)?

  5. Felix T. Cat

    If the Iranians got a nuclear device, I would think they only delay further bluffing that one day they will use it. If I spent my entire economy on one bargaining chip I wouldn't just blow it off for a small victory leading to a huge war I was sure to lose.

  6. Benjamin Allen Whetham

    Replace "Iranians" with "China" and you would be talking about China in the early 1960's. We see how that turned out?

  7. Internationalist

    J.J., since when did you start making Ahmadinejahd a South-Park style Canadian?

  8. @Cristiona

    Seems to me that the reasons so many embargoes have failed miserably is due to nations cheating. The embargoes against Iraq might have worked had not almost every nation in Europe been involved in horribly corrupting the Oil for Food program.

  9. Thomas

    The problem Iran has with making even a single nuclear weapon.

    Conventional weapons of the rest of the world are to the point that they can assure MAD in the case of a country like Iran. No return nuclear attack required. Just enough conventional bombs to seem like it.

  10. Rob Bos

    "rouge regimes"?

  11. Colin

    Basically the color accessory to Dictatorship Blushes.

  12. guest

    Let's get real here.
    While Iran is a mjor military power they are also a pretty fragile one. The only thing it will take to change this situation is the global political will.

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