Categories: Letters to the Editor
Negotiations a better alternative to armed confrontation
United States negotiations with Iran seeking to prevent that country from producing a nuclear weapon bears many relevant similarities to the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962.
The significant events of that crisis are as follows: The Cuban Missile Crisis began when an American U2 reconnaissance plane reported the existence of Soviet missiles with nuclear warheads in Cuba.
Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev had previously assured President Kennedy that under no circumstances would such missiles be sent to Cuba. President Kennedy responded to this treachery by initiating a public confrontation which demanded that Khrushchev withdraw the missiles. To show the seriousness of the matter, President Kennedy ordered a blockade on weapons shipments to Cuba, put U.S. strategic forces on full alert and warned the Soviets that any Soviet missile launched from Cuba would generate a full retaliatory response.
After Khrushchev initially refused to remove the missiles or respect the blockade, Soviet ships when confronted stopped short of the blockade line. Negotiations ultimately resolved the crisis. The Soviets removed their missiles from Cuba, and the United States countered by removing our missiles from Turkey and pledging not to invade Cuba. For details see “Thirteen Days” by R.F. Kennedy. Congress was not involved in the formulation of the blockade initiative.
With alternative choices of war, diplomacy and doing nothing, President Kennedy chose diplomacy, despite the fact that Khrushchev had previously lied to him. He gambled that Khrushchev was not crazy and would not therefore opt for a nuclear missile exchange. Fortunately, President Kenney’s intuition was correct. The Soviets were indeed amenable to a diplomatic resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
The alternatives to diplomacy were terrifying. Estimates were that a nuclear exchange would kill of the order of 100 million Americans and a similar number of Russians quickly, as well as ultimately make the planet uninhabitable. And an invasion of Cuba to destroy the missiles would not only result in many American casualties, but possibly trigger a missile exchange. Doing nothing would make the Soviets more aggressive, probably starting with pressure on Berlin.
The basic choices in the current negotiations with Iran are essentially the same as for the Cuban Missile Crisis. Neither bombing nor invasion are sensible. Bombing cannot destroy Iran’s enrichment facility and bombing or invasion will lead to a long general war in the Middle East with unforeseeable consequences. Doing nothing would lead Iran to rush into a program to develop a nuclear weapon. That is why I see President Obama correctly pursuing the Reagan “trust but verify” diplomatic option.
No one can predict whether Iran will cheat on an agreement and clandestinely pursue development of a nuclear weapon but there is a lot of upside if the Iranians are sincere. I believe that Iran is unlikely to nuke Israel or anyone else even if they did develop a bomb because they like Khrushchev are not insane. Furthermore, they must realize that our retaliation would lead to large scale death and destruction in Iran.
War advocates need to realize that there can be no sensible resolution to the mess in the Middle East without involving Iran. Iran cannot dominate the region using surrogates as they seem to be trying to do because Sunni, Israeli and Western opposition can ultimately thwart such aims.
As I see it, Iran wants desperately to get out from under the current sanctions but has reservations that we may not be negotiating in good faith. The reason for this lies in the fact that we have interfered in their country’s internal affairs for over half a century.
Let me cite three of many examples. The CIA managed a coup in 1953 which replaced their democratically elected Prime Minister with the tyrannical Shah who was an American stooge. Western companies controlled and exploited Iranian oil and gas for many years. And the Iranians see the United States as hypocritical in constraining their current nuclear program since in the 1970s we encouraged Iran under the Shah to build nuclear reactors so we could sell them equipment and even encouraged them to enrich uranium.
We have coexisted without devastating wars with nations that were or are threatening to us and who have mistreated or currently mistreat their citizens (for examples, the old Soviet Union, Russia and North Korea).
Furthermore, we tolerate and do extensive business with Chinese communists who violate the human rights of their citizens and some see as a future military threat. Sometimes war is unavoidable I will admit (WWII for example). But a war with Iran is not inevitable. They need a durable peace among the nations in the Middle East as much as we do and may be ready to participate in seeking one (hopefully even one with Israel).
And finally, let us not overlook the fact that after the CMC ended, nuclear arms limitation talks with the Soviets began in 1969.