Debate is not good–faith negotiation between the opposing parties,
but it is better than nothing. And it might not be as one–sided as most
Americans think. We could certainly fantasize about how such a debate
might play out.
President Bush, of course, would begin by accusing Iran of support
for the “Islamo-fascist” group Hezbollah, which is attacking Israel.
Ahmadinejad might respond that the President should quit using the term
“fascism” in a Goebbels–like attempt to associate every U.S. rival, no
matter how small, with the massively rich and well–armed Nazis of World
After all, “fascism” merely means the government intertwining itself
with business, with a little ultra–nationalism thrown in. Ahmadinejad
might also note that Hezbollah, al-Qaeda, and most other radical Islamic
organizations don’t even control governments (Hamas in Palestine being
the exception), and that all are pushing mainly Sunni or Shi’ite Islamic
agendas, rather than fierce nationalism per se.
Ahmadinejad might then ask Bush why the United States, all the way
across the world from Iran, is more threatened by a relatively poor
country garnering nuclear weapons than are the nations of Europe, closer
in proximity to Iran.
Bush would have to answer that the United States is the world’s only
superpower and that it has to be worried by every adverse development
anywhere in the world, or its allies might decide that they need to
obtain nuclear weapons or bigger armed forces to defend themselves—thus
challenging U.S. supremacy.
Bush might then ask Ahmadinejad why Iran has decided to defy the
United Nations, which has ordered Iran to stop enriching uranium. The
Iranian president might answer that the United States regularly defies
the U.N. when things do not go its way.
Furthermore, Ahmadinejad would likely ask whether Iran should follow
the United Nations or the Nuclear Non–Proliferation Treaty, of which
Iran is a signatory. The treaty allows Iran to enrich uranium for
Ahmadinejad might demand that, after the U.S. intelligence fiasco on
Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, the United States produce compelling
and conclusive evidence—which a new International Atomic Energy Agency
report does not provide—that Iran is enriching uranium at high enough
levels to make nuclear bombs.
Then the Iranian president might ask Bush how he thinks countries out
of favor with the United States will have any incentive to refrain from
pursuing nuclear weapons, when these armaments seem to be the only
deterrent to a U.S. attack. After all, one need only compare U.S.
actions toward a non–nuclear Iraq under Saddam Hussein, with those
vis-à-vis a nuclear North Korea.
Ahmadinejad might then ask Bush why, if Iran would offer to end its
nuclear program, he will not guarantee that he won’t attack the Persian
state. Bush would have to reply that the United States needs to reserve
the right to attack any enemy of its Israeli ally.
The Iranian leader might wonder aloud why the United States is so
slavish in its support for Israel—noting that it reaps little in return
for all the billions in military and economic aid donated, except
blowback anti–U.S. terrorism. He might add that Israel is now a wealthy
country with 200 or more nuclear weapons, and should be able to defend
itself adequately without being on the U.S. dole.
To close, Bush might ask Iran why it continues to support such
terrorism. Ahmadinejad would reply that the United States should be less
concerned than it is about Iran’s support for Islamic groups, because
the groups supported don’t focus their attacks on the United States.
In closing, Ahmadinejad might ask Bush whether he thinks the U.S.
government is living up to its primary responsibility of ensuring the
security of its citizens against the greatest threat they face—attacks
from al-Qaeda—rather than getting sidetracked by fretting about poor
countries, such as Saddam’s Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, getting nuclear
The Iranian president might point out that, unlike al-Qaeda, all of
these countries have “home addresses,” and ultimately could be deterred
from imposing nuclear attacks on the United States by the retaliatory
threat of massive incineration by the world’s most potent nuclear
arsenal. Bush would then probably lamely reply in cliché that a
superpower has global interests and that you can’t deter crazy foreign
leaders whose customs and ways of doing things don’t resemble those of
the U.S. government.
In conclusion, the foregoing mock debate in no way suggests that the
authoritarian, theocratic regime in Iran is superior to the American
republic. But even autocratic states sometimes have legitimate security
concerns. And even admirable republics sometimes can swerve off the path
of common sense in foreign policy.
Ivan Eland is a Senior Fellow at The Independent Institute,
Director of the Institute’s
Center on Peace &
Liberty, and author of the books
The Empire Has No Clothes, and
Putting “Defense” Back into U.S. Defense Policy.