LOS ANGELES -- Let me ask you a question: If you were running Iran, would you try to develop nuclear weapons?
Apparently the editors of the Los Angeles Times would also answer "Yes."
The lead editorial in Friday's Times was comment on the release of the U.S. government's latest "National Security Strategy." That's the one in which President Bush's introduction begins, "America is at war," and then goes on to specifically name Iran as an enemy of the United States. The document also reiterates the U.S. commitment to pre-emptive or preventive war.
The Times puts it this way:
"In invading Iraq, Bush has created his own nightmare. Iraq is now a magnet for jihadists. And Iran is even more determined to develop nuclear weapons to forestall a fate similar to Iraq's. ... A document that names as enemies Iran and North Korea ... provides all the justification those regimes need for a nuclear deterrent of their own. And it virtually guarantees a continuation of the very proliferation that Bush has identified as the greatest threat of all."
In plainer language, the bomb is the symbol of maturity in the world today. Nations that have the bomb are treated as grown-ups. Nations without the bomb get no respect. To many Iranians, not all of them fanatic clerics who dress funny, building a bomb is the only protection against Americans trying to take over their world. Non-proliferation would make more sense if you are not afraid of the Americans.
Again, what would you do? The United States says it is at war, you are the enemy, and it will strike first if it decides that is in its national interest. But that is not likely to happen if you have nuclear weapons.
That is a lesson learned for many bad guys -- including Saddam Hussein. It seems that the reason the Iraqi tyrant was pretending to have weapons of mass destruction was not to scare the Americans, but to deter the Iranians. According to the new book by Michael Gordon and retired general Bernard Trainor, "Cobra II," Saddam was afraid that if Iran knew that Iraq no longer had stocks of poison gas -- both sides used gas in the eight-year Iran-Iraq war that ended in 1988 -- then Iran might not be deterred if it had visions of moving into southern Iraq.
President Bush, judging from the 49-page National Security Strategy, seems to have learned no lesson, including the fact that America is not really at war. The government and its volunteer military and the new brand of privatized paramilitary corporations are at war. But the whole thing is just television to most of the citizenry -- at least, those who do not have servicemen and women in the family, or do not have a financial stake in keeping this thing going.
Besides, this adventure is not going to be paid for by us, but by our children and grandchildren, who will be the ones paying the bills. In case you do not follow such things, the national debt has increased by 50 percent during this administration.
"War," to me, is not the most disturbing word in the strategy document. What scares me is the word "our." As in: "It is the policy of the United States to seek and support democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world."
It is not "our" world. It is "the" world, still a planet of nations wallowing in their own history, ambition, fantasies -- and self-interests. The American fantasy these days is that we are better than other people and they all want to be just like us.
What other people want is what we have, "things." Things like cars and iPods, clean water and good health. And they want us to leave them alone or treat them as grown-ups.
We are drowning in our own hype. If God really made us so much better than other people, we would have been able to beat the South Koreans and Mexicans in the opening rounds of the World Baseball Classic last week.
4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600