Iran's nuclear progress is dangerous, but partially the United States' fault

Open up the Sunday edition of The New York Times and you see the words "The rules have changed. Everybody's going for nuclear programs" attributed to King Abdullah II of Jordan. It's the realization of everyone's fear. It's the essence of the domino theory come to life. Yet its simple logic can be found in any elementary Intro to International Relations course.

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has publicly pursued a nuclear program since 2003, ostensibly for energy purposes, despite the fact that Iran is one of the most energy rich countries in the world. Now allies and enemies of the United States alike are taking the same course of action in the Middle East. On the surface, the emergent situation is one of the first fresh problems in the Middle East to transcend partisan lines in a long time.

One would think we have a situation that everyone summarily agrees is unacceptable. It certainly adds urgency to the Bush camp's calls to reign in Iran and the idea that nuclear proliferation in the Middle East is a high-stakes game worthy of war. But those two ideas may not be complimentary. It seems that because the announcements throughout the Middle East are part of an indigenous effort to contain Iran's aspirations of becoming a regional hegemon, officials in the Bush administration have expressed confidence in the civilian nature of these programs. They are taking this stance despite the fact that governments in places like Turkey, Egypt, Jordan and a dozen others began this frenzy to hire nuclear contractors in response to a discovery by the International Atomic Energy Agency linking Iran's "peaceful" nuclear program to its military.

We stand at the edge of what could easily become a multilateral nuclear arms race in the most volatile, ideologically-possessed part of the world - and when you consider how we got here, you see that there's no discernible way out.

This started when we invaded Iraq to prevent them from using the weapons for which Saddam Hussein had allegedly bought fuel. This assertion turned out to be false. Then the American invasion of Iraq caused the upset victory of the radically conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran's 2005 Presidential election. He turned out to be a nuclear fanatic who is largely responsible for Iran's intention of joining the nuclear community and the consequent rush to nuclear energy in the Middle East.

Meanwhile our efforts in Iraq have exhausted the military capacity of the United States and its allies and squandered our credibility abroad. This gave Ahmadinejad the freedom to completely ignore our warnings against the advancement of a nuclear agenda. His unchecked recalcitrance led to the decision of the Arab states with whom we are tenuously allied, like Saudi Arabia, to take containment of Iran into their own hands. Now there is a laundry list of Middle Eastern countries with nuclear ambitions.

If fear of a nuclear Iran is driving this, then this is nuclear security, not nuclear energy that they are after. We can't turn back the clock on Ahmadinejad by ending the war that got him elected. In the vacuum of power created by our absence in Iraq, the Shiite leaders may well latch onto him as a source of stability and he will become even more indelible in the region. He will only have more success to show the voters of Iran.

Harkening back to the Saudi King's recent reprobation of American influence in the region and his call for Middle Eastern nations to take their future into their own hands, we begin to see the real consequences of the war in Iraq and of ignoring the protests of the world in committing ourselves there. The true irony of our superfluous allegations in 2003 emerges. We lost our influence in a region that obviously needs a lot of influence.