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The Nation

Learning to Love the Bomb

At the risk of damaging his reputation, I want to say a few words in praise of a New York Times reporter. David Sanger had a very smart piece in Sunday's "Week in Review" section titled "Suppose We Just Let Iran Have the Bomb." The President and Vice President continue to hint darkly that "all options" remain on the table until Iran surrenders its nuclear ambitions. Sanger punctured the unilateral bluster and never raised his voice.

That bold article required a reporter with considerable self-confidence--a rare quality these days, when most Washington reporters act like nervous bunny rabbits, always jumping out of the way. Sanger has an advantage. He understands the diplomatic complexities of nuclear proliferation--deeply, soberly--because he has been covering this story for many years. I surmise he has reached that sublime point in a reporter's career where he knows the subject far better than the passing-through "government officials" he covers.

Despite the "crisis" rumblings, Sanger coolly observes: "Some experts in the United States--mostly outside the administration--have been thinking the unthinkable, or at least the un-discussable: If all other options are worse, could the world learn to live with a nuclear Iran?"

The obvious answer is yes (especially if the only other option requires a second-front war in the Middle East). Iranians already seem to understand this. But do Americans?

It's time for a real public debate, Sanger suggests. He doesn't paint a happy picture as he lays out the new power equation of nuclear proliferation--Iran with the bomb becomes the dominant regional power in the Mideast--but he suggests the most plausible option may be "containment." Working out unsentimental relationships with Iran and other nuclear wannabes means terms that define clearly how far is too far to go. Muddling through sounds less satisfying than war-making, but it worked well enough during the decades of the cold war. At least nobody dropped the big one.

My own hunch is that other nations are already heading in that direction--developing a new balance of nuclear terror that can be accepted by all. This containment, however, is not directed at Iran or North Korea alone. The world at large, I suspect, is most frightened by the reckless behavior of the United States. Declaring its unilateral right to invade and conquer, ostentatiously discarding international laws and consensus decision-making, deploying its armed forces to new regions--the world's largest nuclear power appears to be acting more aggressively than anyone else.

Other leading nations take note and take countermeasures. A new map seems to be gradually emerging based on floating alliances--each grouping of nations with its own nuclear power as protector. Iran, for sure, but also India, Pakistan, Israel and other members of the nuclear club. These arrangements may be informal and unacknowledged, but they are visible enough to exert restraining influence on the world's only superpower. Sounds unpatriotic, doesn't it, to suggest that America is now viewed as a destabilizing force?

Sanger did not go that far. He is a wise and self-confident reporter, but not a fool.

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