Politics & Policy

Do The Right Thing

Let's avoid making a catastrophe out of an embarrassment.

Bit by bit we are getting to the inevitable showdown with Iran. This administration, like every other Western government, has hoped against hope that it would not come to this. President George W. Bush, for reasons good and bad, threw in with the Europeans’ phony-negotiation scheme, even though he knew it would fail. Like the others, he hoped that revolution would erupt, and that decisive action on our part would not be necessary. Like the others, he preferred not to face the hard fact that revolutions rarely succeed without external support. Had Ronald Reagan been around, he would have told W. that the democratic revolution that ended the Cold War only finally succeeded when the United States supported it.

The failure to craft an effective Iran policy has plagued this administration, and indeed the entire American political class, for five long years. Calls of “faster, please” were dismissed, in large part because they failed to resonate in the policy community, aside from a few brave souls in Congress (Jon Kyl, John Cornyn, Rick Santorum, Sam Brownback, Illeana Ros-Lehtinen come to mind. No thanks to the nominal leaders, Henry Hyde and Richard Lugar, both in full denial, in lockstep with Foggy Bottom and Langley).

Wishful thinking still dominates global “leadership.” The pathetic Jack Straw intones, “I don’t think we should rush our fences here. There are plenty of examples where a matter is referred to the Security Council and the Security Council takes action and that action is followed without sanction.” And he wistfully adds: “the fact that Iran is so concerned not to see it referred to the Security Council underlines the strength of that body.”

This, at a moment when Iran, which either possesses or will soon have atomic bombs and excellent intermediate-range ballistic missiles, scoffs at the Security Council, threatens to drive oil prices through $100 per barrel, and chants that the West needs Iran more than Iran needs the West. Meanwhile, Secretary Rice, trying to put a brave face on a potentially catastrophic policy failure, happily claims that Iran “is isolating itself” in the world community.

But it is not so. Iran has powerful defenders and apologists (Russia, China, and often Saudi Arabia), and, far from isolating itself, Iran’s ability to intimidate her neighbors is growing relentlessly. Just a few days ago, when Iraqi patrol boats attempted to stop Iranian oil smugglers, Iranian naval vessels opened fire, killing several Iraqi sailors and enabling the smugglers to proceed. Such events do not register against the din of empty words directed at our feckless demands that Iran cease arming herself.

We now hear cries for violent action from those once aptly characterized by Senator Henry Jackson as “born-again hawks,” Democrats and Republicans suddenly willing to talk tough about sanctions and military strikes against Iran. This is only to be expected. Having failed to pursue serious policies in the past, we are left with distasteful options today, and the pundits’ and solons’ chest pounding shows it. They do not expect the “hard options” to be embraced; this is posturing to the crowd, this is political positioning of the most cynical sort.

You want sanctions? When have sanctions ever “worked” against hostile countries? Did they bring Saddam to heel? With one exception (Reagan’s embargo of military technology against the Soviet Empire), they have only altered the behavior of regimes that wanted to be part of our world, countries like South Africa and Chile. For the rest, sanctions cut primarily against the oppressed peoples of our tyrannical enemies, and the tyrants could care less. Sanctions, even if you accept the fantasy that the West en bloc accepts them and enforces them, would do more harm than good. We should want to help the Iranian people, who are overwhelmingly pro-American, and bring down the mullahcracy, which is our outspoken, fanatical, and bloodthirsty enemy. No sanctions.

You want to bomb the nuclear facilities? Do you really believe that our intelligence community is capable of identifying them? The same crowd that did all that yeoman work on Saddam’s Iraq? The CIA that once received accurate information on Iranian schemes in Afghanistan, only to walk away from the sources that provided it? The CIA that, three times in the past 15 years or so, seems to have had its entire “network” inside Iran rolled up by the mullahs? And even if you believe that we have good information about the nuclear sites, are you prepared to deal with the political consequences, in Iran and throughout the region? Do we even know, with any degree of reliability, what those are? Look at the problems we now face in Pakistan, after a handful of innocents were killed in an assault against a presumed terrorist gathering. Then imagine, if you can, the problems following hundreds, or thousands of innocents killed in raids inside Iran. Are you prepared for that?

These are the questions that define our current plight. Having kicked the Iranian can down the road for many years, having failed to purge the intelligence community the morning after 9/11, and having failed to support democratic revolution in Iran and Syria, we are between various hard and alarmingly sharp rocks.

Worse yet, the current panicky rhetoric is yet one more distraction from the real problems, one more flight from the hard facts. For the central problem represented by the Islamic republic of Iran is terror, not technology. Iran is, and has been for decades, the driving engine of the terror war against us. Iran actively seeks our destruction, above all across her eastern and western borders, in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Listen to the wise words of “Mohammed” at Iraq The Model:

I think that now it seems that the greatest danger facing Iraq is not al-Qaeda because rejecting this organization by the Iraqi people was just a matter of time; the greatest danger right now is the possible interference of the neighbors in Iraq’s internal affairs to destabilize the country and impede the political process in the effort to escape the pressure applied by the international community on those neighbors…

Afghanistan’s President Karzai has made similar remarks. Iraqis and Afghans know that the mullahs’ greatest nightmare is free, stable countries on the doorstep to Tehran, because, far more than military attack from abroad, the schemers and torturers fear revolution, which is part of the national DNA. There were three political revolutions in Iran in the last century, and another one is simmering today. There is a lot of fighting going on right now in the Arab regions, just across from southern Iraq. And interestingly enough, the regime is not using regular forces to quell the demonstrations, or even the shock troopers of the Revolutionary Guards, or even the fanatical Basiji. Instead, the mullahs have called in the killers from the Lebanese Hezbollah, and from the Badr Brigades in Iraq. True to its essence, the regime is unleashing its terrorists against the demonstrators. It is reminiscent of the Chinese response to the uprising in Tiananmen Square, when Beijing called in soldiers from remote regions instead of relying on the local rank and rile. Both are signs of unease, and additional confirmation that tyrants fear their own people above all others.

The mullahs know it, but the West seems not to. Our failure to support revolution in Iran is already a terrible embarrassment, and risks becoming an enormous catastrophe. Almost everyone who writes about the chances for revolution takes it for granted that it would take a long time to come to fruition. Why must that be so? The revolutions in countries like Georgia and the Ukraine seem to have erupted in an historical nanosecond. Nobody foresaw them, everyone was surprised. Who imagined the overnight success of the Lebanese people? How long did that take? The entire region is awash with revolutionary sentiment, and nowhere more than Iran. Why assume–because no one can possibly “know” such things–that it would take a long time?

And even if you believe that revolution cannot possibly succeed before the successful completion of the mullahs’ nuclear project, is that a reason to abandon the policy altogether? On the contrary, it seems self-evident that it would be even more urgent to support revolution in a nuclear Iran than earlier, doesn’t it? So why not start now? The Iranian people may be ready. We won’t know until we try.

On the other hand, we do know what will happen if we continue to dither, if we continue to act as if the United Nations could possibly have a decisive effect, and if we continue to put up with the sly appeasement of Iran that is practiced by the spent forces of Europe. Terror against our troops and our friends will increase; nuclear blackmail will become a commonplace in the Middle East; the fanatics of Tehran may very well fulfill their promise to wipe Israel from the map.

Is that better than supporting democratic revolutionaries? Such a program has an additional benefit, one that is not subject to the doubts and uncertainties that attend the others: It is the right thing to do, and it would be even if Iran had no nuclear program, and was not the world’s leading terrorist supporter. It is part and parcel of our national mission, and it is the ultimate example of doing well by doing good.

How about it?

Michael Ledeen, an NRO contributing editor, is most recently the author of The War Against the Terror Masters. He is resident scholar in the Freedom Chair at the American Enterprise Institute

Michael LedeenMichael Ledeen is an American historian, philosopher, foreign-policy analyst, and writer. He is a former consultant to the National Security Council, the Department of State, and the Department of Defense. ...


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