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Foreign Affairs

The Libyan Intervention and Iran

While the fall of the mad dog of Libya is indeed welcome, the intervention of the West into these affairs can have several unfortunate results. President Obama's degradation of the Constitution and the capitulation of Congress to the breaking down of the separation of powers notwithstanding, there are real and practical problems that will arise within the international system that can be very bad. Chief among them is the emboldening of Iran's determination to pursue nuclear power, emboldened by the back-and-forth foreign policy (and general lack of grand strategy) exhibited by the West.

Though a pariah in the 1980s and early 1990s, Moammar Gaddafi was welcomed back into the international club during the past decade after negotiating to give him his stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. Fearing something similar to the United States invasion of Iraq, he bought the West's assurances that we would not destabilize his regime if he gave up the bad stuff. This is essentially the same type of negotiating tactics we are using with the Islamic Republic of Iran; we are imposing sanctions and constrictions on the Iranian regime, and saying that military intervention is not off-the-table, in an attempt to get them to give up their nuclear program. With our intervention in Libya, though, our position at the negotiating table has been severely limited. If less than a decade after peace was made with Libya we proceeded to actively seek the destruction of the Gaddafi regime anyways, in response to humanitarian concerns, then what incentive does Iran now have to give up their nuclear weapons? After the quashing of the 2009 uprising in Iran, the chances of a "humanitarian crisis" breaking out in that country are high, meaning that, with this doctrine of responsibility to protect, we can excuse ourselves to attack the regime whether they give up their nuclear aspirations or not.

Additionally, the mixed messages in regards to Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong-Il further embolden Iran. Hussein did not have nuclear weapons at his disposal, and was promptly toppled. Kim does, and is left alone to bully and whine from his North Korean palaces. The logic would imply that we will not invade or attack a nation with a nuclear weapon, even if they commit grave atrocities against their people--Gaddafi gave his weapons up, and so when he threatened to crack down on his people, the West readily attacked without fear. If Iran were to launch another harsh crackdown, even worse than before, it could open them up for strikes as well; if they had a nuke, though, the chances of that would be far lower. Our intervention in Libya will serve to embolden these rogue nations and give them more excuse to pursue dangerous weapons that threaten to destabilize international security. This means that unless there is a successful internal change within the nation of Iran, it seems to me that there are now only two likely scenarios: a Western military attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, or the acceptance of a nuclear-armed Iran. Neither is very comforting. 

Our intervention has put us in a tough spot between stemming the tide of nuclear proliferation and being able to let regimes know that massive infringements on human rights are intolerable. This is a big mess to clean up, and one that must be cleaned up soon---while I completely understand the necessity and importance of the economy and domestic concerns within the electorate right now and thus at presidential debates and press conferences, spending some time addressing this issue is important, particularly due to the timeliness of Iran's nuclear program. With Israel already feeling threatened by the collapse of Mubarak and the end of peaceful relations with their neighbor, the entire situation in the Middle East is set to blow. We need to start talking about this.
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