Sunday, August 3, 2008

Iran & The End Of The Beginning

Former CIA officer Reuel Marc Gerecht writes that Iran, now on the precipice of a nuclear arsenal, is making no pretense about even a willingness to discuss supension of its nuclear program. Obama's plans for tea in Tehran could not be more unrealistic. Very soon we will be faced with the choice of how to deal with a nuclear armed Iran.

This from Mr. Gerecht writing at the Weekly Standard:

On July 30, Ali Khamenei demolished what was left of George W. Bush's Iran policy. Iran's clerical overlord also put paid to Senator Barack Obama's dreams of tête-à-tête, stop-the-nukes diplomacy. Ten days earlier the Americans, British, French, Germans, Russians, and Chinese had gathered in Geneva hoping to convince Tehran to suspend uranium enrichment. True to form, Khamenei told them all to stick it. The Islamic Republic will not cease and desist: "Taking one step back against the arrogant powers [the West] will lead them to take one step forward," Khamenei replied. So much for the "significant" presence of William Burns, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, who went to Geneva to show Tehran and the Europeans the United States' willingness to have senior-level contacts with the clerical regime. . . .

The mission by Burns, an accomplished "realist" diplomat, is exactly what Obama's campaign had in mind when they said that a President Obama would approve "preparatory" meetings with Iranian officials before he sought to have a face-to-face with a worthy counterpart, which given the Iranian political system means either Khamenei, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, or Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the head of Iran's Expediency Council and the cleric who got Iran's clandestine nuclear-weapons program rolling. Since the Illinois senator first broached the idea of personal diplomacy during a Democratic primary debate, Khamenei has unleashed a barrage of speeches against "Satan Incarnate," "the Great Enemy," and "the Enemy of Islam and all Islamic peoples" (all shorthand for the United States). Ahmadinejad, a more spiritual man than Khamenei, suggested to NBC's Brian Williams in Tehran in late July that all the problems between the United States and Iran could be eliminated if Americans would just learn to live according to the dictates of the biblical and post-biblical prophets, who are all, according to Islamic theology, Muslim. Williams didn't appear to realize that Ahmadinejad was making a call for America's conversion. If he had realized it, he would probably have ignored it as perfunctory rhetoric of little real-world relevance.

But it is helpful to imagine the reverse: Suppose Barack Obama, George W. Bush, or John McCain were to call on Iranians to accept the teachings of Christ as practiced by America's Christians. Religiously, culturally, and politically the idea is unthinkable, of course. This ought to give us some idea of the chasm separating Americans and Europeans from the leadership of the Islamic Republic. This ought to tell Senator Obama and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that face-to-face "preparatory" meetings with Iranians are irrelevant: American diplomats could talk for years to Saeed Jalili, the Iranian nuclear negotiator who is in the entourage of Ahmadinejad, and it would not disturb the universe in which Jalili lives and prays.

It's a good guess that [Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Ahmedinejad] really want to tell the West, in earthy language, that they are going to get a nuclear weapon and there is nothing the Americans, the Europeans, and the Israelis can do to stop them. When both men talk about justice, and they mention it constantly, they are thinking of the imbalance in the world between devout Muslims, who follow the true path of God, and infidels, with their damnable technical superiority. By acquiring nuclear weapons, these men intend to restore that balance, allowing real Muslims, especially the faithful Iranian vanguard, to recapture the high ground throughout the Islamic world. Ahmadinejad was glad to see Ambassador Burns at the Geneva meeting not because he wants to reach a compromise with the United States, and welcomes the new, post-axis-of-evil "flexibility" of the Bush administration, but because he sees the Geneva meeting as another step in the West's process of conceding a bomb to Iran. Ahmadinejad's triumphalism, which is the mirror-image of Khamenei's more tight-lipped glee, overwhelmed Brian Williams, who was reduced to asking the same questions repeatedly. When you think you've won, you don't need to pretend with an American news anchor that you might, just possibly, compromise and give the West hope that diplomacy can continue.

There is yet a slight chance the Europeans can revive the Bush-Obama diplomatic track. But the Europeans would have to do what they have so far refused to do and may no longer be able to do: Immediately impose economy-crushing sanctions on the Islamic Republic (Tehran has been rapidly moving its financial assets out of Europe). Russia, China, and India--the key states in developing a suffocating, worldwide sanctions regime--are unlikely to help since they all seem to have concluded that a clerical Iran brought to its knees by the West is worse than an oil-rich, nuclear-armed (and grateful) Islamic Republic. With their dogged efforts to increase centrifuge production (two years ago Iran had one cascade of 164 centrifuges; now it may have 6,000 spinning), Khamenei and Ahmadinejad act as if they will soon have a weapon. And once the Iranians get the bomb and put, or just imply that they are putting, nuclear-tipped warheads on their ballistic missiles, how much resolve will the Europeans have to confront Tehran? Given contemporary European sentiments and habits, isn't an effort to placate Tehran more likely?

. . . It is now entirely reasonable to conjecture that Tehran will have nuclear-armed missiles before the United States is able to install a missile defense system in Eastern Europe. . . .

Even with a functioning antiballistic missile system in place to stiffen European spines, the mullahs may well be able to split the alliance once they have nukes. The allure of Iranian oil and gas is just too great. With Tehran suggesting that the Europeans have nothing to fear so long as they distance themselves from the United States in the Middle East and in Afghanistan, an American containment strategy on Iran, which necessarily has to involve the Europeans if it's going to have any economic teeth, may well be stillborn.

Thoughtful Democrats have realized the havoc the Iranians could cause in the Middle East once they obtain nuclear weapons. But few Democrats--or Republicans, for that matter--have awakened to the potential for Iranian nuclear arms to destroy the very transatlantic ties that both Obama and McCain say need to be strengthened to confront the many problems before us. When he was president of Iran, Rafsanjani began a divide-and-conquer strategy toward the West, trying to bring in the Europeans for investment and trade, while confronting the United States and lethally attacking dissidents at home and abroad. This approach was especially important to the development of Iran's then entirely clandestine nuclear-weapons program, since Rafsanjani didn't want the West lining up against Iran at a time when the clerical regime needed to build up its program to a "break-out" potential. Khamenei and Ahmadinejad abandoned Rafsanjani's and his successor Mohammad Khatami's cautious and slow approach to developing nuclear weapons. For a time, this abrupt change caused concern in Tehran that the United States and Europe might actually deploy economy-crushing sanctions or, even worse, that the Bush administration might order a military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities before the enrichment process had sufficiently advanced.

But the fear of George W. Bush has vanished. And we will now see whether Khamenei and Ahmadinejad have a correct understanding of Europe--whether it really still matters. Ironically, Khamenei and Ahmadinejad's confrontational strategy could prove more effective at dividing the Europeans from the Americans than did the wry smile of Rafsanjani or even the warm, soft handshakes of Mohammad Khatami.

Yet, the Europeans might still surprise themselves and us. Concern about the Islamic Republic's nuclear quest is palpable in Paris, London, and Berlin. Senior French diplomats who have been party to the EU-3 talks like to relate how Iran's European embassies are paying their bills with big wads of cash these days since they can no longer transfer the required monies through embargoed banks. The Europeans might still be able to unleash a tsunami of sanctions, sanctions that even the Italians could be shamed into joining. And it is possible that George W. Bush might again follow his better instincts and ramp up the bellicose language, suggesting that he will indeed strike before leaving office. It is even possible that Barack Obama could come to appreciate that his Iran policy has utterly collapsed, too. With Khamenei, loudly advertised machtpolitik is an indispensable inducement to a peaceful suspension of uranium enrichment. Perhaps the contemplation of his administration having to figure out a containment strategy against a nuclear-armed Iranian theocracy might convince the senator of the need now for a bit of eloquent bellicosity.

. . . More likely, we will get to see whether an Obama or McCain administration has any idea of how to contain a nuclear-armed, oil-rich theocracy willing to deploy terrorism and guerrilla warfare to ensure that "justice" is brought to the Middle East and Afghanistan. This is assuming that the Israelis--increasingly desperate as they contemplate their future opposite nuclear-armed Muslim militants who see the Jewish state as an insult to God--don't strike first and change everyone's planning. Perhaps it is not too late to breathe new life and urgency into the critical need for a united Western front against Tehran.

Read the entire article. My worst fear is that the calamity of the mad mullahs, birthed by President Carter during his first term, will come to full bloom during Carter's second term.

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