Victor Davis Hanson

Iran’s North Korean Furture

by Victor Davis Hanson

Tribune Media Services

The idea of a nuclear Iran — and of preventing a nuclear Iran — terrifies security analysts.

Those who argue for a preemptive strike against Iran cannot explain exactly how American planes and missiles would take out all the subterranean nuclear facilities without missing a stashed nuke or two — or whether they might as well expand their target lists to Iranian military assets in general. None can predict the fallout on world oil prices, global terrorism and the politically fragile Persian Gulf, other than that it would be uniformly bad.

In contrast, those who favor containment of a nuclear Iran do not quite know how the theocracy could be deterred — or how either Israel or the regional Sunni Arab regimes will react to such a powerful and unpredictable neighbor.

The present crisis with North Korea offers us a glimpse of what, and what not, to expect should Iran get the bomb. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would gain the attention currently being paid to Kim Jong-un — similarly not otherwise earned by his nation’s economy or cultural influence.

We should assume that the Iranian theocracy, like the seven-decade-long Kim dynasty in North Korea, would periodically sound lunatic: threatening its neighbors and promising a firestorm in the region — if not eventually in the United States and Europe as well.

An oil-rich, conventionally armed Iran has already used that playbook. When it becomes nuclear, those previously stale warnings of ending Israel or attacking US facilities in the Persian Gulf will not be entirely laughed off, just as Kim Jong-un’s insane diatribes are not so easily dismissed.

North Korea has taught the world that feigned madness in nuclear poker earns either foreign aid or worldwide attention — given that even a 99 percent surety of a bluff can still scare Western publics. North Korea is the proverbial nutty failed neighbor who constantly picks on the successful suburbanites next door, on the premise that the neighbors will heed his wild nonsensical threats because he has nothing and they have everything to lose.

Iran could copy Kim’s model endlessly — one week threatening to wipe Israel off the face of the map, the next backing down and complaining that problems in translation distorted the actual, less bellicose communiqué. The point would not necessarily be to actually nuke Israel (which would translate into the end of Persian culture for a century), but to create such an atmosphere of worry and gloom over the Jewish state as to weaken the economy, encourage emigration and erode its geostrategic reputation.

North Korea is a past master of such nuclear shakedown tactics. At times Pyongyang has reduced two Asian powerhouses — Japan and South Korea — to near paralysis. Can the nations that gave the world Toyota and Samsung really count on the American defense umbrella? Should they go nuclear themselves? Can North Korean leadership be continually bought off with foreign aid, or is it really as crazy serious as it sounds?

Iran would also be different from other nuclear rogue states. The West often fears a nuclear Pakistan, given that a large part of its tribal lands is ungovernable and overrun with Islamic radicals. Its government is friendly to the West only to the degree that American aid continues.

Yet far larger and more powerful India deters nuclear Pakistan. For all the wild talk from both the Pakistani government and tribal terrorists, there is general fear in Pakistan that India has superior conventional and nuclear forces. India is also unpredictable and not the sort of nation that can be periodically threatened and shaken down for concessions.

Iran has no comparable existential enemy of a billion people — only a tiny Israel of some 7 million. The result is that there is no commensurate regional deterrent.

Nor does Iran have a tough master like nuclear China. Even Beijing finally pulls on the leash when its unpredictable North Korean client has threatened to bully neighbors and create too unprofitable a fuss.

Of course, China enjoys the angst that its subordinate causes its rivals. It also sees North Korea as a valuable impediment to a huge, unified new Westernized Korea on its borders. But that said, China does not want a nuclear war in its backyard. That fact ultimately means North Korea is muzzled once its barking becomes too obnoxious.

A nuclear Iran would neither worry about a billion-person, nuclear existential enemy nearby like India, nor a billion-person patron like China that would establish redlines to its periodic madness. Instead, Teheran would be free to do and say what it pleased. And its nuclear status would become a force multiplier to its enormous oil wealth and self-acclaimed world leadership of Shiite Muslims.

If North Korea has been a danger, then a bigger, richer and undeterred nuclear Iran would be a nightmare.

©2013 Tribune Media Services

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About victorhanson

Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. He is also the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History, Hillsdale College, where he teaches each fall semester courses in military history and classical culture. He recently published an historical novel The End of Sparta (2012), a realistic retelling of Epaminondas invasion and liberation of Spartan-control Messenia. In The Father of Us All (2011), he collected earlier essays on warfare ancient and modern. His upcoming history The Savior Generals(2013) analyzes how five generals in the history of the West changed the course of battles against all odds. He was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 and the Bradley Prize in 2008. Hanson, who was the fifth successive generation to live in the same house on his family’s farm, was a full-time orchard and vineyard grower from 1980-1984, before joining the nearby CSU Fresno campus in 1984 to initiate a classical languages program. In 1991, he was awarded an American Philological Association Excellence in Teaching Award, which is given yearly to the country’s top undergraduate teachers of Greek and Latin. Hanson has been a National Endowment for the Humanities fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford, California (1992-93), a visiting professor of classics at Stanford University (1991-92), a recipient of the Eric Breindel Award for opinion journalism (2002), an Alexander Onassis Fellow (2001), and was named alumnus of the year of the University of California, Santa Cruz (2002). He was also the visiting Shifrin Professor of Military History at the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland (2002-3). He received the Manhattan Institute’s Wriston Lectureship in 2004, and the 2006 Nimitz Lectureship in Military History at UC Berkeley in 2006. Hanson is the author of hundreds of articles, book reviews, scholarly papers, and newspaper editorials on matters ranging from ancient Greek, agrarian and military history to foreign affairs, domestic politics, and contemporary culture. He has written or edited 17 books, including Warfare and Agriculture in Classical Greece (1983; paperback ed. University of California Press, 1998); The Western Way of War (Alfred Knopf, 1989; 2d paperback ed. University of California Press, 2000); Hoplites: The Ancient Greek Battle Experience (Routledge, 1991; paperback., 1992); The Other Greeks: The Family Farm and the Agrarian Roots of Western Civilization(Free Press, 1995; 2nd paperback ed., University of California Press, 2000);Fields without Dreams: Defending the Agrarian Idea (Free Press, 1996; paperback, Touchstone, 1997; The Bay Area Book reviewers Non-fiction winner for 1996); The Land Was Everything: Letters from an American Farmer (Free Press, 2000; a Los Angeles Times Notable book of the year); The Wars of the Ancient Greeks (Cassell, 1999; paperback, 2001); The Soul of Battle (Free Press, 1999, paperback, Anchor/Vintage, 2000); Carnage and Culture (Doubleday, 2001; Anchor/Vintage, 2002; a New York Times bestseller); An Autumn of War (Anchor/Vintage, 2002); Mexifornia: A State of Becoming (Encounter, 2003),Ripples of Battle (Doubleday, 2003), and Between War and Peace (Random House, 2004). A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War, was published by Random House in October 2005. It was named one of the New York Times Notable 100 Books of 2006. Hanson coauthored, with John Heath, Who Killed Homer? The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom (Free Press, 1998; paperback, Encounter Press, 2000); with Bruce Thornton and John Heath, Bonfire of the Humanities (ISI Books, 2001); and with Heather MacDonald, and Steven Malanga, The Immigration Solution: A Better Plan Than Today’s (Ivan Dee 2007). He edited a collection of essays on ancient warfare, Makers of Ancient Strategy (Princeton University Press, 2010). Hanson has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, International Herald Tribune, New York Post, National Review, Washington Times, Commentary, The Washington Post, Claremont Review of Books, American Heritage, New Criterion, Policy Review, Wilson Quarterly, Weekly Standard, Daily Telegraph, and has been interviewed often on National Public Radio, PBS Newshour, Fox News, CNN, and C-Span’s Book TV and In-Depth. He serves on the editorial board of the Military History Quarterly, and City Journal. Since 2001, Hanson has written a weekly column for National Review Online, and in 2004, began his weekly syndicated column for Tribune Media Services. In 2006, he also began thrice-weekly blog for Pajamas Media, Works and Days. Hanson was educated at the University of California, Santa Cruz (BA, Classics, 1975, ‘highest honors’ Classics, ‘college honors’, Cowell College), the American School of Classical Studies, Athens (regular member, 1978-79) and received his Ph.D. in Classics from Stanford University in 1980. He divides his time between his forty-acre tree and vine farm near Selma, California, where he was born in 1953, and the Stanford campus.

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