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  North Korea Conducts a Nuclear Weapons Test--but Iran Remains the Target for the Next War
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POLITICAL ANALYSIS:

North Korea Conducts a Nuclear Weapons Test—but Iran Remains the Target for the Next War

by JOHN HICKMAN
In the current administration, nuclear non-proliferation has been reduced to a mere pretext for war, and only for war against Iran.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill’s October 3, 2006 response to the North Korean announcement that it would be conducting a nuclear test was bellicose. “We,” he said, “are not going to live with a nuclear North Korea.” Pyongyang, he said, “can have a future or it can have these weapons.” However, when North Korea ignored the threat of war and detonated its rather smallish nuclear device on Sunday October 8, 2006, the United States did nothing more than join the other major powers in condemnation. No air strikes. No ground invasion to unseat Kim Jong Il. The United States can live with a nuclear North Korea after all.

The obvious problem with any threat to wage war against North Korea is its credibility. Pyongyang knows what the rest of the world knows--that the conservative political elites in Washington who still dream of going to war somewhere new in the last two years of Bush administration would rather fight Iran. If averting the dangers of nuclear weapons proliferation was an important foreign policy objective of the Bush White House that would be irrational. The consensus among experts is that North Korea may already have 2 to 4 atomic bombs, while Iran is anywhere from 5 to 10 years away from building its first atomic bomb. That North Korea’s nuclear weapons pose near-term threats to 128 million Japanese and 49 million South Koreans while the prospective Iranian nuclear weapons pose at best a long-term threat to 6 million Israelis doesn’t count for much. Which threats to world peace the Bush administration chooses to treat as serious isn’t a function of the numbers of potential human victims or the immediacy of the threat. Instead, the interests comprising the conservative coalition supporting the Bush administration dictate that Iran remain the target for the next war.

Recent events in Lebanon were good for the religious apocalypse business and Iran would make a perfect sacrifice in the eternally rewarding Ponzi game of fundamentalist Protestant millennialism.
The leaders of the Christian Right would endorse a war against Iran more enthusiastically than one against North Korea because it would play so much better in the Bible Belt. Recent events in Lebanon were good for the religious apocalypse business and Iran would make a perfect sacrifice in the eternally rewarding Ponzi game of fundamentalist Protestant millennialism. Pity the poor televangelist forced to wedge the real geopolitics of Northeast Asia into the symbolic territory of the Book of Revelations.

Neoconservatives' Euro-centrism and Zionism make the safety of Jerusalem’s 700,000 residents more important to them than the safety of Tokyo’s 34 million residents or Seoul’s 22 million residents.
There can be little doubt that neo-conservatives in the Bush administration would prefer a war against Iran to one against North Korea. They might prate about universal liberal and democratic values, but in practice the neo-conservatives value some human lives much more than others. Their Euro-centrism and Zionism make the safety of Jerusalem’s 700,000 residents more important to them than the safety of Tokyo’s 34 million residents or Seoul’s 22 million residents.

War against Iran also tempts neoconservatives because it might save their bacon in Iraq. Remember that they are the clique of grand strategists who demanded a war in Iraq even before the U.S. military was given time to finish the job in Afghanistan. Neither of these wars is a success and the prospects for eventual victory are poor. Decision makers fearful of accepting responsibility for a quagmire are inevitably tempted to expand the war rather than withdraw military forces. That’s what the Nixon administration did during the Vietnam War when it ordered the invasion of Cambodia. That’s what Japan militarists did during the Second Sino-Japanese War when they decided to attack the United States and European colonial powers in Southeast Asia. Widening a war puts off the day when responsibility for a failed war may be recognized and punished. The neo-conservatives in the Bush administration are responsible for not one but two quagmires. And there sits Iran, waiting patiently for the last act of the U.S. occupation of Iraq to inherit control of oil rich southern Iraq as a client state. What could a war against North Korea possibly offer by comparison?

No business interests are better represented in the highest reaches of power in the Bush administration than Big Oil, and no business interests are more dependent on the foreign policy decisions of the United States for their profitability.
Then there is Big Oil. No business interests are better represented in the highest reaches of power in the Bush administration and no business interests are more dependent on the foreign policy decisions of the United States for their profitability. Highly risk acceptant Big Oil executives have to be tempted by the prospect of a larger war in the Persian Gulf. Iran sits atop the third largest pool of oil on the planet. Only Saudi Arabia and Iraq have more and Iranian oil deposits are almost equal those of Iraq. North Korea by contrast has no known oil or gas deposits. The boys in Big Oil may also share the neo-conservative belief that a war establishing effective political control over Iran and its oil wealth could also guarantee political control of southern Iraq and its oil wealth.

Likely to be lost in discussions of Iranian and North Korean nuclear proliferation over the next two years is that neither necessitates war. In the six decades since the United States became the charter member of the nuclear club it found little reason to complain when Britain, France and Israel went nuclear and learned to live with a nuclear Soviet Union, China, India and Pakistan. Washington’s stated foreign policy objective of preventing nuclear non-proliferation makes for splendid rhetoric but in practice has been regularly abandoned to achieve other foreign policy objectives. In this it resembles U.S. human rights, global environment and anti-terrorism policies. In the current administration, nuclear non-proliferation has been reduced to a mere pretext for war, and only for war against Iran.
John Hickman is associate professor of comparative politics at Berry College in Rome, Georgia. His published work on electoral politics, media, and international affairs has appeared in Asian Perspective, American Politics Research, Comparative State Politics, Contemporary South Asia, Contemporary Strategy, Current Politics and Economics of Asia, East European Quarterly, Journal of Southern Europe and the Balkans, Jouvert, Legislative Studies Quarterly, Political Science, Review of Religious Research, Women & Politics, and Yamanashigakuin Law Review. He may be reached at jhickman@berry.edu.



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This story was published on October 10, 2006.
 

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