April 14, 2008 4:39PM

Frum on Iranian Nukes

Responding to Charles Krauthammer’s call to make Israel a formal U.S. protectorate, David Frum dissents:

An Iranian nuclear force would be small and inaccurate: a terror weapon, not a weapon of war to be used against an opponent able to respond in overwhelming force. Israel is not the target. So who is?

The short answer: The world oil market.

In 1986, the US waged an undeclared proxy naval war to deter Iran from attacking oil tankers in the Persian Gulf. The US won of course and Iran lacked any effective riposte. This US operation played a decisive role in compelling Iran to accept peace in the Iran‐​Iraq war.

And it may have prompted Iranian leaders to decide: We need an effective counter‐​deterrent against the US. The US would have been much more reluctant to protect Kuwaiti tankers against a nuclear Iran. An Iranian nuclear bomb would act as a “Keep Out” sign to frighten the US away from a now truly Persian Gulf.

In other words, an atomic bomb would serve Iran’s hegemonic ambitions rather tha its apocalyptic fantasies. It is a useful weapon sought by rational people. That is precisely why it is dangerous and must be stopped.

Frum packs a lot of problems into a short piece. So Iran is going to use nuclear weapons to try to hold Arab oil from making its way onto world markets? Interesting. A few questions:

1) What do we think the Chinese may think about the resulting skyrocket in world oil prices? Japan? Frum paints the familiar image of a lonely US hanging by a thread to its oil lifeline in the Middle East. Things have changed a lot since 1986. What do we think the rest of the world may have to say about this business?

2) What target are the Iranians holding at risk in this scenario? Ras Tanura? Israel? Iraq? Who’s going to be threatened?

3) Who is going to believe that Iran will pull the trigger? If we believe, as Frum and I do, that Iran is run by “rational people” who are seeking nuclear weapons because they are “useful,” why would we believe that the Iranian regime would bring about its own end by using nuclear weapons against any of the above targets?

I can think of one paper on the topic that Frum might want to read.