Wednesday, September 30, 2009

There Are Only Two Choices Left on Iran

An Israeli or U.S. military strike now, or a nuclear Tehran soon.

Unless you are a connoisseur of small pictures of bearded, brooding fanatical clerics there is not much reason to collect Iranian currency. But I kept one bill on my desk at the State Department because of its watermark—an atom superimposed on the part of that country that harbors the Natanz nuclear site. Only the terminally innocent should have been surprised to learn that there is at least one other covert site, whose only purpose could be the production of highly enriched uranium for atom bombs. Pressure, be it gentle or severe, will not erase that nuclear program. The choices are now what they ever were: an American or an Israeli strike, which would probably cause a substantial war, or living in a world with Iranian nuclear weapons, which may also result in war, perhaps nuclear, over a longer period of time.

Understandably, the U.S. government has hoped for a middle course of sanctions, negotiations and bargaining that would remove the problem without the ugly consequences. This is self-delusion. Yes, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy stood side by side with President Barack Obama in Pittsburgh and talked sternly about lines in the sand; and yes, Russian President Dimitry Medvedev hinted that some kind of sanctions might, conceivably, be needed. They said the same things to, and with, President George W. Bush.

Though you would not know it to listen to Sunday talk shows, a large sanctions effort against Iran has been underway for some time. It has not worked to curb Tehran's nuclear appetite, and it will not. Sooner or later the administration, whose main diplomatic initiatives thus far have been a program of apologies and a few sharp kicks to small allies' shins, will have to recognize that fact.

The Iranian regime wants nuclear weapons and has invested vast sums to get both the devices and the means to deliver them. The Russians and Chinese have made soothing murmurs of disapproval but have repeatedly made it clear that they will not go along with measures that would cripple the Iranian economy (and deprive them of markets). German and Swiss businessmen will happily sell Iran whatever goods their not very exacting governments will permit, and our terrified Arab allies have nothing like the military capability to match their own understandable fears. So let's be serious about the choice, because we have less than a year to make it.

An Israeli strike may set back the Iranian program by some short period of time. What the Israelis can do is unclear: They play their tactical cards close to their vest, and they would take different approaches, and accept different risks, than the U.S. Air Force would. No surprise there, given that they believe, with reason, that the looming issues are existential.

But even if they achieved temporary success, it would be just that, because the Iranian program is very different from the Iraqi Osirak reactor that the Israelis nailed so precisely in 1981. It is far more dispersed and protected, and is based on thousands of centrifuges rather than a single nuclear reactor. Moreover, the chances are that it would evoke outrage throughout the Middle East (although Arab governments would privately rejoice at the event), and probably provoke an Iranian reaction that could involve a very large war as the Israelis are attacked by, and retaliate against, Iran's proxies in the Levant and throughout the world.

An American attack would be more effective, but it would take longer and probably lead to real warfare in the Persian Gulf, disrupting oil supplies and producing global responses. More to the point, it is difficult to believe that the Obama administration has the stomach for war. Its appalling public case of nerves over the war in Afghanistan—a "war of necessity," as of only a few months ago—is indicative of its true temper. And if President Obama does not have the courage to accept hazards and ugly surprises, and if he cannot bring himself to deploy his rhetorical skills to the mobilization of opinion at home and abroad, he should not start a shooting war, even if the Iranians are already waging one against us.

That leaves living with an Iranian bomb. But this too has enormous hazards. It will engender—it has already quietly engendered—a nuclear arms race in the region. It will embolden the Iranian regime to make much more lethal mischief than it has even now. In a region that respects strength, it will enhance, not diminish, Iranian prestige. And it may yield the first nuclear attack since 1945 some time down the road.

At the heart of the problem is not simply the nuclear program. It is the Iranian regime, a regime that has, since 1979, relentlessly waged war against the U.S. and its allies. From Buenos Aires to Herat, from Beirut to Cairo, from Baghdad to, now, Caracas, Iranian agents have done their best to disrupt and kill. Iran is militarily weak, but it is masterful at subversive war, and at the kind of high-tech guerrilla, roadside-bomb and rocket fight that Hezbollah conducted in 2006. American military cemeteries contain the bodies of hundreds, maybe thousands, of American servicemen and servicewomen slain by Iranian technology, Iranian tactics, and in some cases, Iranian operatives.

The brutality without is more than matched by the brutality within—the rape, torture and summary execution of civilians by the tens of thousands, down, quite literally, to the present day. This is a corrupt, fanatical, ruthless and unprincipled regime—unpopular, to be sure, but willing to do whatever it takes to stay in power. With such a regime, no real negotiation, based on understandings of mutual interest and respect for undertakings is possible.

It is, therefore, in the American interest to break with past policy and actively seek the overthrow of the Islamic Republic. Not by invasion, which this administration would not contemplate and could not execute, but through every instrument of U.S. power, soft more than hard. And if, as is most likely, President Obama presides over the emergence of a nuclear Iran, he had best prepare for storms that will make the squawks of protest against his health-care plans look like the merest showers on a sunny day.

Mr. Cohen teaches at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies. He served as counselor of the State Department from 2007 to 2009.

# The Wall Street Journal

* SEPTEMBER 26, 2009

The Disarmament Illusion
Obama pursues arms control treaties; Iran builds the bomb.

* Article
* Comments (30)

President Obama appreciates "teachable moments," so let's all discuss this week's lesson in arms control theory and practice.

The President brought his soaring sermon about "a world without [nuclear] weapons" before the U.N. General Assembly. He called for a new arms control treaty and won Security Council support for a vague resolution on proliferation. On cue yesterday, Iran showed the world what determined rogues think about such treaties. On the evidence of his Presidency so far, Mr. Obama will not let that reality interfere with his disarmament dreams.
The disclosure that Iran has a second facility to make bomb-grade fuel, the latest of many Tehran deceptions, isn't exactly surprising. Administration officials say U.S. intelligence has known about the secret underground plant near the city of Qom for years. Iran sought other hidden sites after the Natanz facility was discovered in 2002, and now officials say they suspect there are other facilities too.

The U.S., France and the U.K. yesterday presented detailed evidence about the plant to the International Atomic Energy Agency. They acted after Iran got wind of the U.S. intelligence and sought to pre-empt possible consequences by informing the supposed nuclear watchdog in Vienna about what Tehran called a "pilot plant" for civilian use.

It's not clear why the mullahs even bothered to make that effort. The past decade of international efforts to monitor, control and sanction the Iranian nuclear program is a story of fecklessness. Iran's nuclear weapon efforts started many years ago, but it was exposed by an Iranian opposition group in exile, not by IAEA inspectors who've been allowed in the country since 1992. Despite this violation of Iran's treaty commitments, the world community has since done nothing to punish, much less stop, Iran's nuclear program.

What's changed now? Standing together before the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh yesterday, Mr. Obama and the French and British leaders put on their game faces, calling for Iran to immediately admit IAEA inspectors. New deadlines were mentioned—talks with Tehran starting October 1, tougher sanctions by December, and so on. "Everything," said France's Nicolas Sarkozy, "must be put on the table now."

At least the French President tried to sound tough, which isn't hard when you stand next to Mr. Obama. The American said Iran will "be held accountable" but watered this down with extended remarks on Iran's "right to peaceful nuclear power," as if the mullahs, sitting on the world's second-largest natural gas and third-largest oil reserves, have any need for peaceful atomic energy.

The Iranians have heard it all before, waltzing along in talks with the "E-3" and now the "P-5-plus-1" (the Security Council permanent members and Germany), all the while ignoring Security Council resolutions and its commitments as a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Let's also not forget the boost Iran got in late 2007, when a U.S. national intelligence estimate concluded that Iran had stopped its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and kept it frozen. The U.S. spy agencies reached this dubious conclusion while apparently knowing about the site near Qom. The intelligence finding stole whatever urgency existed for the Bush Administration to act against Iran, militarily or otherwise, which perhaps was the intended goal. The Iranians got more time and cover.

In an interview with Time magazine this week, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad didn't sound overly concerned, saying that if the U.S. mentioned the previously secret facility, it "simply adds to the list of issues to which the United States owes the Iranian nation an apology over." Following the violent protests this summer in response to Iran's fraudulent presidential elections, Mr. Ahmadinejad has kept power but looks both weaker and more ruthless. He makes explicit threats against Israel and he engaged in more Holocaust denial at the U.N. this week.

Meantime, the U.S. and its allies dream. Mr. Obama used his global forum this week not to rally the world to stop today's nuclear rogues but to offer lovely visions of disarmament in some distant future. In the bitter decades of the Cold War, we learned the hard way that the only countries that abide by disarmament treaties are those that want to be disarmed. It's becoming increasingly, and dangerously, obvious that Mr. Obama wasn't paying attention
Nuclear Kumbaya

Posted 09/25/2009 07:16 PM ET

WMD: "We must stop the spread of nuclear weapons," the president implored the U.N. Almost on cue, Iran announced its second nuclear plant and Brazil talked up its own bomb. U.S. weakness gets noticed.

President Obama delivered numerous applause lines before the United Nations last week, like this one regarding nuclear proliferation: "Those nations that refuse to live up to their obligations must face consequences."

But what consequences? Only the most crippling of sanctions, like a concerted oil export and gasoline import embargo, would constitute real punishment for Iran, for instance.

And we're nowhere near getting that to happen.

Which leaves us with what might best be called Chocolate Chip Ice Cream Diplomacy. Dustin Hoffman, the divorcing dad in the movie "Kramer vs. Kramer," haplessly warns his bratty little boy again and again not to get the chocolate chip ice cream out of the freezer before finishing dinner.

"You take one bite out of that, you're in big trouble," the ever-more-ridiculous-looking father says. As the bite gets closer to the boy's lips, he says: "You put that ice cream in your mouth and you are in very, very, very big trouble. Don't you dare go anywhere beyond that. Put it down right now. I am not going to say it again."

That's us now. Neither Iran nor any other terror state has any reason to believe America's tough words have steel behind them.

Upstaging a planned announcement by the U.S., Britain and France, Tehran last week admitted to the International Atomic Energy Agency that it is building a second uranium enrichment facility at a secret site inside a mountain near the Shiite holy city of Qum.

Jamie Fly, executive director of the Foreign Policy Initiative, warned that "Iran will stonewall" any U.N. probe of the site, "much as it has done the IAEA's investigation into its pre-2003 covert military program."

Last week also saw a Paris-based Iranian exile group identify two sites near Tehran where they claim the regime is trying to make nuclear detonators.

To top that off, Brazil's vice president and former defense minister, Jose Alencar, told journalists that "we have to advance on" developing nukes "as an instrument of deterrence" because of Brazil's massive western border and oil-rich territorial sea.

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace last week warned: "Venezuela's pursuit of nuclear power is moving forward in ways that are increasingly worrisome and possibly illegal." Leftist President Hugo Chavez may get Iranian nuclear technology in exchange for 20,000 barrels of gasoline, defying U.S. sanctions on Iran. And Russia talks of helping Chavez build a nuclear reactor.

Guest Comment: Just like Carter is responsible for the Islamic Republic of Iran, so Obama will go down in history as having allowed terrorist regime and a worlwide terror sponsor to acquire nuclear weapons. May it not be any more severe than such a legacy.

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