Wednesday, May 30, 2007
I continue to wonder, and worry, what will happen vis-a-vis Iran. Is President Bush simply too tired to confront Iran, as some have suggested? Have the appeasers in Washington won?
Norman Podhoretz wonders this too. And he clearly has not forgotten what is at stake:
The Iranians, of course, never cease denying that they intend to build a nuclear arsenal, and yet in the same breath they openly tell us what they intend to do with it. Their first priority, as repeatedly and unequivocally announced by their president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is to "wipe Israel off the map"--a feat that could not be accomplished by conventional weapons alone.As Mr. Podhoretz points out, a nuclear Iran would be only the beginning:
But Ahmadinejad's ambitions are not confined to the destruction of Israel. He also wishes to dominate the greater Middle East, and thereby to control the oilfields of the region and the flow of oil out of it through the Persian Gulf. If he acquired a nuclear capability, he would not even have to use it in order to put all this within his reach. Intimidation and blackmail by themselves would do the trick.
Nor are Ahmadinejad's ambitions merely regional in scope. He has a larger dream of extending the power and influence of Islam throughout Europe, and this too he hopes to accomplish by playing on the fear that resistance to Iran would lead to a nuclear war. And then, finally, comes the largest dream of all: what Ahmadinejad does not shrink from describing as "a world without America."
According to a recent news story in the New York Times, for example, [...] "officials from 21 governments in and around the Middle East warned at a meeting of Arab leaders in March [...] that Iran's drive for atomic technology could result in the beginning of 'a grave and destructive nuclear arms race in the region.' " Which is to say that [...] local resistance to Iran's bid for hegemony in the greater Middle East through the acquisition of nuclear weapons could have even more dangerous consequences than a passive capitulation to that bid by the Arab countries. For resistance would spell the doom of all efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, and it would vastly increase the chances of their use.In other words, the rest of the Middle East might accept Iran as its new leader -- but it is much more in keeping with recent history to think otherwise. If a nuclear Iran sounds frightening, what can we say about a Middle Eastern nuclear arms race?
Mr. Podhoretz notes the growing tendency to kowtow to Muslim demands, wherever they may surface:
Consider, for example, what happened when, only a few weeks ago, the Iranians captured 15 British sailors and marines and held them hostage. Did the Royal Navy, which once boasted that it ruled the waves, immediately retaliate against this blatant act of aggression, or even threaten to do so unless the captives were immediately released? Not by any stretch of the imagination. Indeed, using force was the last thing in the world the British contemplated doing, as they made sure to announce. Instead they relied on the "soft power" so beloved of "sophisticated" Europeans and their American fellow travelers.
But then, as if this show of impotence were not humiliating enough, the British were unable even to mobilize any of that soft power. The European Union, of which they are a member, turned down their request to threaten Iran with a freeze of imports. As for the U.N., under whose very auspices they were patrolling the international waters in which the sailors were kidnapped, it once again showed its true colors by refusing even to condemn the Iranians. The most the Security Council could bring itself to do was to express "grave concern."
. . .
According to John Bolton, our former ambassador to the U.N., the Iranians were testing the British to see if there would be any price to pay for committing what would once have been considered an act of war. Having received his answer, Ahmadinejad could now reap the additional benefit of, as the British commentator Daniel Johnson puts it, "posing as a benefactor" by releasing the hostages, even while ordering more attacks in Iraq and even while continuing to arm terrorist organizations, whether Shiite (Hezbollah) or Sunni (Hamas).
So Iran believes it can proceed with a free hand. Indeed, we are encouraging Iran to think so, with Ambassador-level negotiations.
So what on Earth can the President be thinking? One thought I had -- which sounded Polyannish, even to me -- was that Bush was, again, pursuing negotiation before threatening war. He did so in Afghanistan, remember, and again in Iraq. Mr. Podhoretz thinks so too:
Why is [President Bush] spending all this time doing the diplomatic dance and wasting so much energy on getting the Russians and the Chinese to sign on to sanctions? The reason, I suspect, is that--to borrow a phrase from Robert Kagan--he has been "giving futility its chance." Not that this is necessarily a cynical ploy. For it may well be that he has entertained the remote possibility of a diplomatic solution under which Iran would follow the example of Libya in voluntarily giving up its nuclear program. Besides, once having played out the diplomatic string, and thereby having demonstrated that to him force is truly a last resort, Mr. Bush would be in a stronger political position to endorse John McCain's formula that the only thing worse than bombing Iran would be allowing Iran to build a nuclear bomb--and not just to endorse that assessment, but to act on it.There's no way to know if this is, in fact, what President Bush has in mind. Obviously, if he's trying to lull the Iranians into thinking they have nothing to fear from the United States, it'll look the same to us as well.
But we do know that that would be very much in character for him. As I said, he's done this before.
And we should remember the three American aircraft carrier groups, sitting nearby quietly in international waters.
Mr. Podhoretz concludes his essay thus:
Much of the world has greeted Ahmadinejad's promise to wipe Israel off the map with something close to insouciance. In fact, it could almost be said of the Europeans that they have been more upset by Ahmadinejad's denial that a Holocaust took place 60 years ago than by his determination to set off one of his own as soon as he acquires the means to do so. In some of European countries, Holocaust denial is a crime, and the European Union only recently endorsed that position. Yet for all their retrospective remorse over the wholesale slaughter of Jews back then, the Europeans seem no readier to lift a finger to prevent a second Holocaust than they were the first time around.Amen.
Not so George W. Bush, a man who knows evil when he sees it and who has demonstrated an unfailingly courageous willingness to endure vilification and contumely in setting his face against it. It now remains to be seen whether this president, battered more mercilessly and with less justification than any other in living memory, and weakened politically by the enemies of his policy in the Middle East in general and Iraq in particular, will find it possible to take the only action that can stop Iran from following through on its evil intentions both toward us and toward Israel. As an American and as a Jew, I pray with all my heart that he will.
By all means, go read the whole thing.