John C. Wohlstetter: Cuba 1962 and Iran 2010: Will There Be a Mideast Nuclear Castro?





[John C. Wohlstetter is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, author of The Long War Ahead and the Short War Upon Us, and founder of the issues blog Letter From the Capitol.]

Team Obama has jettisoned sanctions against Iran that would prevent the regime, a crude oil producer with a shortage of refinery capacity, from importing refined oil, as part of American concessions to win passage of a fourth weak UN sanctions resolution. In testimony to Congress, Secretary of State Clinton likened the confrontation with Iran to diplomacy during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis....

As to high stakes, Secretary Clinton has a point indeed. But her analogy applies beyond diplomacy. Other factors played a huge role in 1962, and bid fair to play an even bigger role in possible future confrontations in a nuclear Mideast. Specifically, consider four: (1) vulnerability to nuclear first-strike; (2) short warning times; (3) lack of communication channels; (4) lack of leader impulse control....

Leader Impulse Control. Which brings us to perhaps the most important personality of the 1962 crisis, one whose impulse control was, to put it charitably, weak: Fidel Castro, flush with his improbable revolutionary triumph and seething with rage at the United States, partly borne of ideological Marxist fervor and partly due to the efforts of the Kennedy administration to get rid of him. Fidel wanted the Russians to incinerate the United States and was willing, even eager, to sacrifice his six million subjects in a nuclear holocaust.

It is today's Islamic Castro who should worry us the most. Religious messianism and secular militarism can be as lethal as romantic revolutionary fervor. Compound this with several new Mideast nuclear powers and the recipe for accidental nuclear war is cooking in the regional pot. Fidel's reckless abandon may well be the future augury of nuclear wars to come. It should be noted that although Israel has been a nuclear power (albeit undeclared) for over forty years, its status has not ignited a Mideast arms race. And when Israel took out Iran-backed Syria's North Korea-supplied nuclear plant in September 2007, the silence in the Mideast was deafening....

Put simply, an arms race in the Mideast will be a collection of nuclear accidents waiting for places to happen. Just as Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev was then the lesser danger, so today Russia's leaders, though dangerous adversaries, pose less of an immediate nuclear first-strike threat than do Iran's leaders. The 21st century Castro most likely to unleash a nuclear war likely lives in the Mideast, not Moscow. Setting an example by reducing our nuclear arsenal further than the vast reductions we have already made will only embolden the world's most dangerous leaders.



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