The End of the World As We Know It

Gordon Chang isn’t being metaphorical:

Keeping the ultimate weapon out of the hands of the Iranians is, as they say, “a question of civilization.” After all, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has made himself famous for his chatter about “wiping Israel off the map,” and Hassan Abassi, a senior member of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards, once said, “We have a strategy drawn up for the destruction of Anglo-Saxon civilization.”

An Iran with a nuclear weapon is inherently dangerous, even if it never launches a warhead, drops a bomb, or supplies fissile material to one of its terrorist allies. By succeeding in building a nuclear arsenal it will destabilize the Middle East, already the world’s most volatile region. Moreover, there will be two other adverse consequences, both of them far more serious.

First, Iran, following in North Korea’s footsteps, will have proven that the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty is a dead letter. A collapse of this accord, the global pact that has helped slow the spread of the bomb for four decades, will undoubtedly create a problem: Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, estimates that almost fifty nations could develop nuclear weapons within a few years’ time….

And that leads us to the second consequence of Iran’s nuclearization: the end of the American-led global order. Why would this happen? An international system that cannot defend its most vital interest against its weakest members cannot last. Great nations that flounder lose their following quickly. Who is going to side with the United States once it has publicly demonstrated that it is incapable of prevailing over far weaker adversaries? Therefore, the stakes couldn’t be higher.

The truth is that, should American leadership fail at this moment, the world will pass from the current hegemonic system to what the Chinese and French call a “multipolar” one. The world can be stable in any type of arrangement of nations, but it is rarely safe when it transitions from one to the next. Changes of the global order, history demonstrates, are usually accompanied by uncertainty, turbulence, and death in great numbers. That has been especially true when a once-dominant nation fails to maintain peace and stability.

The last two eras without a superpower produced two wars of unprecedented devastation….

If the Bush administration cannot change the course of events one more time, then we could travel from the best moment in history to the worst.

It’s hard to know what Barack Obama thinks about anything, but what I glean from his remarks about talking to Iran, etc., is that he thinks that the move to a multipolar world would be a good thing.  McCain and Clinton, I think, realize that it would be bad, though they probably underestimate just how bad it might be.

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