On Tuesday, Iran announced it was installing 6,000 more centrifuges — they produce enriched uranium, the key ingredient of a nuclear weapon — in addition to the 3,000 already operating. The world yawned.
It is time to admit the truth: The Bush administration’s attempt to halt Iran’s nuclear program has failed. Utterly. The latest round of U.N. Security Council sanctions, which took a year to achieve, is comically weak. It represents the end of the sanctions road.
The president is going to hand over to his successor an Iran on the verge of going nuclear. This will deeply destabilize the Middle East, threaten moderate Arabs with Iranian hegemony, and leave Israel on hair-trigger alert.
This failure can, however, be mitigated. Since there will apparently be no disarming of Iran by pre-emption or by sanctions, we shall have to rely on deterrence to prevent the mullahs, some of whom are apocalyptic and messianic, from using nuclear weapons.
During the Cold War, we prevented an attack not only on the U.S. but also on America’s allies by extending the American nuclear umbrella — i.e., declaring that any attack on our allies would be considered an attack on the United States.
Such a threat is never 100 percent credible. Nonetheless, it made the Soviets think twice about attacking our European allies. It kept the peace.
We should do the same to keep nuclear peace in the Middle East. It would be infinitely less dangerous (and therefore more credible) than Cold War deterrence because there will be no threat from Iran of the annihilation of the United States. Iran, unlike the Soviet Union, would have a relatively tiny arsenal incapable of reaching the U.S.
How to create deterrence? The way John Kennedy did during the Cuban missile crisis. President Bush should issue the following declaration, adopting Kennedy’s language while changing the names of the miscreants:
It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear attack upon Israel by Iran, or originating in Iran, as an attack by Iran on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon Iran.
This should be followed with a simple explanation: “As a beacon of tolerance and as leader of the free world, the United States will not permit a second Holocaust to be perpetrated upon the Jewish people.”
This policy — the Holocaust Declaration — would establish a firm benchmark that would outlive this administration. Every future president — and every serious presidential candidate — would have to publicly state whether or not he supports the Holocaust Declaration.
It is an important question to ask because it will not be uncontroversial. It will be argued that the Holocaust Declaration is either redundant or, at the other extreme, provocative.
Redundant, it will be said, because Israel could retaliate on its own. The problem is that Israel is a very small country with a small nuclear arsenal that could be destroyed in a first strike. During the Cold War, both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. created vast and invulnerable submarine fleets to ensure a retaliatory strike and, thus, deterrence. The invulnerability and unimaginably massive size of this American nuclear arsenal would make a U.S. deterrent far more potent and reliable than any Israeli facsimile — and thus far more likely to keep the peace.
Would such a declaration be provocative? On the contrary. Deterrence is the least provocative of all policies. That is why it is the favored alternative of those who oppose a pre-emptive attack on Iran. What the Holocaust Declaration does is turn deterrence from a slogan into a policy.
It is, of course, hardly certain that deterrence would work on Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other jihadists. But deterrence would encourage rational Iranian actors, of whom there are many, to restrain or even depose leaders like Ahmadinejad who might sacrifice Iran’s existence as a nation in order to vindicate their divine obligation to exterminate the “filthy bacteria” of the Jewish state, “this disgraceful stain (on) the Islamic world.”
For the first time since the time of Jesus, Israel is the home of the world’s largest Jewish community. An implacable enemy has openly declared genocidal intentions against it — in clear violation of the U.N. charter — and is pursuing the means to carry out that intent. The world does nothing. Some, like the Russians, are literally providing fuel for the fire.
For those who believe that America stands for something in the world — that the nation that has liberated more peoples than any other has even the most minimal moral vocation — there can be no more pressing cause than preventing the nuclear annihilation of an allied democracy, the last refuge and hope of an ancient people openly threatened with the final Final Solution.
© 2008, The Washington Post Writers Group