Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
Many people who recall the Stanley Kubrick’s brilliant 1964 black comedy Dr. Strangelove starring among other Peter Sellers and George C. Scott, forget the fact that the movie’s full title was Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. The second portion of the title came to mind in considering the events of the past week with respect to the Obama Administration’s response or equivocating non-response to confirmation of Syria’s use of a small amount of sarin gas against its own people. As has been said here and elsewhere the debate over crossing the red line in the use of gas by Syria only elevated the concern over what might be the potential U.S. reaction to Iran’s crossing its red line on nuclear weapons capability within the next several months or so. It seems that the Obama Administration is clearly signaling several things to Iran, to the world, and to Israel.
To Iran the U.S remains vigorously opposed to Iran proceeding with its nuclear material production and will use ever method—short of the military it seems—to stop this movement of Iran becoming a nuclear power. It will also enable Israel to have the capability to stop the Iranian program should it desire to do so; but the Obama Administration at this point believes it can “learn to stop worrying and live with (maybe not love) the bomb.”
To the world the Obama Administration is suggesting that nuclear proliferation may well be unstoppable at this point. Washington understands that if Iran gets the bomb, the U.S. will have to “learn to live” with the Saudis, the Egyptians, and the Turks, thereafter, having a bomb as well. None of these new nuclear forces will present an existential threat to the U.S.
As for Israel, the U.S., as evidenced by Secretary Hagel’s indications last week in Jerusalem, is sending a very strong message that it will continue to protect Israel with defensive weapons and offensive capability. The Administration also is sending Israel an even stronger message. Washington’s signal, based on its behavior toward Syria and now its projected possible response to Iran, is to tell Israel to be very cautious, and careful, in considering whether it too might not be better off– not learning to stop worrying–but living with an Iran that has the bomb. It may not be pretty, but it may be a much smarter option than enduring the hell storm of a war with Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah, even if Israel were to be victorious.