Ahmadinejad seems to be something of a loose cannon, and he’s apparently making the religious conservatives who are the real power pretty nervous. They’ve stripped the presidency of some of its powers and transferred them to his main rival Rafsanjani. He appears to have limited experience beyond the local level, and appears not to comprehend how his statements will be exploited by hostile powers.
[His] comments [that Israel should be "wiped off the map"] are doubtless deplorable, but would it be more acceptable for him to be announcing publicly that he is going to bomb Israel and the US, meanwhile demonstrating very openly that he is preparing the capacity to do so? That’s after all what the US and Israel have been very openly proclaiming with regard to Iran, and preparing to execute, for years.
No sane person wants Iran to develop nuclear weapons. However, it’s hard to disagree with the conclusion of one of Israel’s leading military historians, Martin van Creveld, that Iran would be insane not to develop them, surrounded by hostile and threatening nuclear powers, including the global superpower — which … has a history in Iran that Iranians are unlikely to sweep under the rug as is done here.
Another part of that history is that as long as the tyrant it imposed was ruling Iran, the US was providing material and diplomatic support for the very same enrichment programs that it now demands that Iran terminate. Now the claim is that Iran doesn’t need nuclear energy, so it must be developing weapons — as could be true. In the 1970s, the claim was that Iran does need nuclear energy, so the US must help it develop means to enrich uranium. Asked about this, Henry Kissinger, then an advocate of Iranian nuclear energy programs (as Secretary of State and later), said with his usual honesty that the difference is:
then Iran needed nuclear energy because it was an ally; now it doesn’t need nuclear energy because it has abundant hydrocarbon resources, so it must be developing nuclear weapons capacity. Simple. Iranians may not be as willing to swallow it as Westerners do.
The US concedes that Iran so far has kept to its Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) commitments. The official argument is that Iran cannot be trusted — doubtless true, but one can think of a few competitors in that race.
Iranians are also less willing than commentators here to overlook the fact that the US is in radical violation of its NPT commitments, as are the nuclear powers generally though the Bush administration is far in the lead, the main cause for the collapse of the NPT 5-year review conference last May. The Bush administration is, for once, correct in my opinion in calling for a revision of Article IV of the NPT, which permits enrichment programs of the kind that Iran is now carrying out.
With modern technology, the gap between these programs and nuclear weapons capacity is much narrower than it was in 1970, when the NPT was signed. There are ways to overcome that problem, including quite concrete proposals. But they have gotten nowhere because the US has blocked them, most recently in November 2004, when the UN voted 147-1 (guess who) for a treaty placing production of fissile materials under international supervision — unreported here to my knowledge, though I presume Iranian intelligence is aware of this critically important vote. There’s a lot more.
The US is playing with fire in this case. Iran does have options. It might decide to give up on Europe, assuming that it is too much under the thumb of Washington, and turn to the East, joining the Asian Energy Security Grid based in Russia and China. That’s part of a range of issues much too complex to discuss here, though it’s worth mentioning that it’s one of the reasons why the US greatly fears the danger of a sovereign and more or less democratic Iraq — facts highly relevant to current withdrawal debates, which are almost meaningless if these factors are ignored, as they are.