So-Called Religion, Actual Fiction, and Nuclear War

As the hotly-contested Republican primaries waged on with the former candidates Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, both Catholics, trying to outshine the other in the Iran war-mongering portfolio, a little-noticed letter was sent to Secretary of State Clinton.

Bishop Richard Pates, the Roman Catholic bishop of Des Moines, and chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, wrote to Clinton on March 2nd calling for a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear standoff. Bishop Pates wrote, “Iran’s bellicose statements, its failure to be transparent about its nuclear program and its possible acquisition of nuclear weapons are serious matters, but in themselves do not justify military action.” The bishop went on to write, “Discussing or promoting military options at this time is unwise and may be counterproductive.”

Presumably, the bishop would have likewise bristled at the Iran warmongering by fellow Catholics Santorum and Gingrich. Nevertheless, despite the clear difference between the bishop and the former candidates on the matter of war with Iran, he did, and still does, share some common ground with the Catholic former presidential hopefuls: Like Santorum and Gingrich, the bishop was utterly mum about the powerful incentives Iran has to acquire the bomb: namely, to counter Israel’s monopoly on nuclear weapons in the Mideast, and thus secure its own regime against an attack from nuclear-armed Israel, or its benefactor, the United States.

The U.S. double-standard toward Israel’s nuclear weapons program, in place since the Nixon presidency, is slowly, by a snail’s pace, coming undone in public discourse.

When asked to comment earlier this year on Piers Morgan about the dangers of the Iranian nuclear standoff, media mogul Ted Turner drew attention to the U.S. double-standard toward Israel’s atomic weapons arsenal. One might think that Catholic bishops, who defend the sanctity of human life from the moment of conception, wouldn’t be so reticent about publicly addressing a nuclear arsenal in the most volatile region of the world. Alas, it isn’t so.

While the Israeli government’s public position is that it will never be the first nation to use nuclear weapons in the Middle East, as former Obama and Clinton administration Mideast policymaker, Dennis Ross, stated in a March NPR interview, it is entirely conceivable that in the near future, as tensions between Iran and Israel escalate, one side could make a nuclear miscalculation, thus resulting in the first nuclear strike since 1945.

For those dissenting voices who would argue that a nuclear-armed Iran could be contained, Ross handily dispelled any illusions about the notion.

In that NPR interview Ross stated, “During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union had all sorts of channels of communication. Iran and Israel do not have channels of communication. Given the vulnerability that the Israelis are likely to feel, and I would say the vulnerability potentials that the Iranians would feel as well, each country would be on a hair-trigger. They could not – they would each feel they couldn’t afford to strike second. The problem with being on a hair-trigger in area where there’s lots of local triggers for a conflict is that you can quickly set in motion a train of events that may not be so easy to control.”

A nuclear strike by Iran or Israel is a dreadful scenario to contemplate. And yet, as nuclear-armed Israel’s principal benefactor on the world stage, it is a dreadful scenario that America’s political class, including “Catholics in good standing” like Santorum and Gingrich, have been incubating for decades by acquiescing to Israel’s nuclear posture, a posture officially known as nuclear ambiguity.

Only time will tell whether Israel, or the U.S. and Israel, will launch an attack on Iran to topple its nuclear installations. Only time will tell if there is ever a nuclear strike by Israel, Iran, or both, as Dennis Ross so chillingly described.

For me, as a Catholic, my support for the very concept of a Jewish state, even though I disagree with a number of Israel’s postures, will be entirely unaffected by the course of events, no matter how bad things get – even if Israel drops the bomb.

For even within my own faith, there is no shortage of ruthless, calculating men – some with miters, some not – who manage to convince people that despite not having an ounce of human empathy for innocent Iranian civilians who would be on the receiving end of an Israeli nuke, they somehow – by magic? – have genuine empathy for the Jewish people.

Indeed, the dark elements of the human condition that ultimately led to the Holocaust are still very much present.

Yet political support for the Jewish state should not require acquiescing to the fiction that those who could not care less about the right of the Iranian people to live free from the threat of nuclear war somehow care about the right of the Israeli people to live free from the threat of nuclear war.  For that is a fiction which is bringing us closer and closer to the edge of a Mideast nuclear holocaust.

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