- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 22, 2005

While I was attending high school and college in New York City, two bridge construction projects were going on: the Throggs Neck Bridge between my home borough of Queens and the Bronx and the Verazanno-Narrows Bridge, linking Brooklyn to Staten Island. Subliminally, I learned a serious lesson about major feats of engineering: They require diligence, time and expertise to complete. The same insight applies to other, less benign, efforts, like the Iranian nuclear program.

As noted in a UPI analysis published in these pages last October, and despite contrary claims from Iran, there is little doubt that its nuclear program is directed at the construction of atomic weapons. Iranian outrage over as yet unsuccessful international pressure to abandon the weapons potential of its nuclear program is indicative of its true goal: recognition of its abstract “right” to whatever nuclear program it desires.

By 1981, Iraq, rather than Iran, was on the verge of nuclear capability. The Osiraq reactor, a French contribution to world stability, was ready to receive its fuel rods. Time was of the essence: once the rods were in place, destruction of the facility would have resulted in unacceptable dispersion of radiation. And so that June a small group of Israeli fighter bombers destroyed Iraq’s reactor. Ten years later, then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney recognized that but for the controversial raid, coalition forces in the Gulf war would in all likelihood have found themselves confronting an Iraq possessed of nuclear weapons. Whether Saddam would have used these nukes or not, clearly the stakes in the operation would have been raised exponentially and perhaps even more so in 2003 where the toppling of his regime was the goal.

There are some who would argue that Iran, as a sovereign nation, has the “right” to build any weapons it chooses. After all, the “nuclear club” now includes numerous states — India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel — aside from the old hands, the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia. But there are clear distinctions between these nations and Iran. Most significant is the fact that after protracted periods of possession (North Korea aside), none of them has used these most potent of WMDs since the USSR ended the US monopoly.

Can we anticipate the same self restraint of Iran, the nation that sacrificed a million men in its war with Iraq, seized the US embassy and detained our diplomats, supports terrorism and actively assists the insurgency in Iraq? And are we, the world’s most heavily armed nuclear power, entitled to decide which nations may develop such weapons?

Perhaps part of the answer lies in the perceived degree of constraint and self control of these states. Like a bridge over troubled waters, certain nations exhibit the political coherence and sanity to be seen as members of the international community. We may become frustrated with our erstwhile allies, the French, but few complain that they are not citizens of a responsible, modern state. We may strongly disapprove of certain policies and pronouncements of the Peoples’ Republic of China — such as the bellicosity directed at Taiwan — but hopefully Beijing will continue to be mindful of the unacceptability of nuclear conflict. So it would seem that it is through this necessarily subjective appraisal that the United States achieves its “right” to decide which states may develop nuclear weapons.

There was another bridge which attracted attention years ago, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge — dubbed “Galloping Gertie” — that rattled itself into oblivion when wind gusts matched the resonant frequency of the span. The news footage was spectacular and surreal: concrete pavement bucking up and down, knocking vehicles and workers aside. Was this an example of incredible engineering incompetence? Not really. No such phenomenonhadeverbeen observed before (and fortunately the bridge failed before being opened to the public). The solution was simple: airfoils exerting a downward force were installed solving the problem and resulting in the completion of another of mankind’s arguably grandest structures.

Bridges are not only majestic: they are utilitarian, connecting domains previously less accessible. The same may sometimes be said about ideas. The notion of eliminating Iran’s nuclear ambitions may seem farfetched or overpriced in light of our experience in Iraq, but such thinking occurs on an island which takes Desert Storm as the only model. To be sure, the United States is capable of crossing the bridge to a far more fecund mainland which offers other options, such as the Israeli raid in 1981. The Iranians are building their own bridge, perhaps for us a bridge too far. We owe it to ourselves and the rest of the world to prevent its completion. If you doubt this, I have a bridge in Brooklyn you might be interested in buying.

Frederick Grab is a former California deputy attorney general.

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