A Troubling Policy on Iran

by Victor Davis Hanson

NRO’s The Corner

Chickens Roosting

Where to begin with the “surprise” announcement of a second, previously undisclosed “nuclear facility”? Some thoughts:

(1) This is Iran’s answer to the Obama video peace offensive. This summer we kept quiet while thousands went into the streets of Tehran to protest brutality and a rigged election — just so that Obama’s much-heralded peace offensive, planned for October, could showcase his transnational diplomatic charisma. I think all that brilliance has just been preempted by the theocracy, which quite understandably concluded that Obama not only would not support democratic dissidents in the new “reset button” era, but was increasingly desperate, as the new anti-Bush, to obtain some sort of agreement with Iran by any means necessary.

(2) The IAEA under previous head Mohamed ElBaradei became a disgraced, politicized organization whose first mission is to resonate with anti-American Western elites (note the Nobel Prize given ElBaradei and his failed agency in 2005), and whose second is to appease Muslim countries, on the theory that years ago democratic Israel got a bomb, so what’s the big deal if an autocratic Muslim country does the same? This is no exaggeration; it comes out of the mouth of ElBaradei himself and is often echoed by his supporters in the West.

(3) We have no reliable intelligence agencies — none at all. For partisan purposes, they have leaked false information about both Iran and Iraq for years. During the political wars of the Bush era, they claimed that Iran was “years away” from obtaining the bomb — and anyone who doubted that dubious assessment was either unhinged or of questionable character. Do we remember the much-welcomed 2007 conclusion from the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran: “We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program”?

That bombshell was cited for months as “proof” of neoconservative paranoia and warmongering over Iraq. In fact, over the last decade, we have seen a long series of politicized leaks from the CIA and politicized memoirs from former operatives designed to undermine the case against Iran. The result is that after endless assurances that there was no Iranian effort to get a bomb, it turns out that there has been one all the time, and it is now on the eve of coming to fruition. We should have an investigation to determine what, if anything, the authors of the 2007 assessment knew about the recently disclosed “second” facility.

4) Despite the president’s praise of the U.N., trashing of the previous administration, and grandiose proclamations that we are back on the Human Rights Council, there is little international concern over Iran. A few nations walked out during Ahmadinejad’s rant, but most delegates stayed glued to their seats. Russia and China — the former recently appeased by the missile deal, the latter recently rebuffed with the tire tariff — are flush with cash and enjoy the notion that Iran bothers us more than it does them; they have not yet been hope-and-changed into helping Obama with his grand vision on the grounds that he is not Bush. Some look at our president and see a messiah; these two see a rookie in charge of a now-bankrupt country with $2-trillion-a-year deficits that is unsure what to do in two wars and in dire need of both imported oil and trillions in cash.

We can imagine that Europeans’ “concern” will translate into something analogous to their effort in Afghanistan. Britain’s past appeasement of the sailor-kidnapping Iranians, and its recent oil-prompted release to Libya of the Lockerbie murderer, will not create much worry in Tehran about British sanctions.

In short, there is nothing the international community can or will do about Iran’s road to a small arsenal of nukes. What would work — an ironclad international boycott and embargo of Iran’s oil exports and gasoline imports — is beyond Western statecraft. In this new Obama era of morally equivalent multiculturalism, we have no desire to stand for human rights and support the Iranian opposition in any meaningful way; and as for trying to appease either the Muslim world or Russia and China in hopes of getting help from them — well, no comment on that.

(5) We are no longer really an ally of Israel. Most of this administration’s efforts in the Mideast have consisted of pressuring Israel in unilateral fashion. We are reaching out to Syria, the West Bank, and the Muslim world in general, while warning democratic Israel not to do a litany of things. The only mystery now is how far the estrangement extends. In that regard, Zbigniew Brzezinski’s recent suggestion that we might shoot down Israeli planes on the way to Iran as they passed over Iraq is not as lunatic as it would have seemed last year.

I think the script is pretty clear: The world is either terrified or intrigued by the Iranian bomb program but will do nothing to stop it. The Western powers privately hope that Israel will do something, and if it does, the intervention may prove to be a military and diplomatic disaster (which is the bad choice, as opposed to the worse one of allowing a nuclear Iran) that will allow the U.S. and the West at last to decouple from this “rogue” nation.

Something Fishy . . .

Some are suggesting the latest disclosure about Iran’s nuclear program is no big deal, given that it is not really news to insiders; or that it was disclosed at precisely the right time to illustrate Obama’s careful diplomacy in getting the U.K. and France on board. But to me it is a much bigger deal that Obama knew of this facility even during the transition last autumn, as his radical new policy toward Iran was being formulated.

Officially, the American people have had to assume the truthfulness of the most recent, highly questionable national intelligence estimate of 2007 (“We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program”). Why, then, was not the updated information released earlier, and the 2007 estimate rendered inoperative, especially since that flawed assessment has been used to demagogue the issue? I recall candidate Joe Biden in 2007 asserting, “Let’s get this straight. In 2003, they stopped their program.” And it was the supposed authority of the 2007 estimate that prompted candidate Obama to claim that the Senate decree naming the Iranian Revolutionary Guards a terrorist organization was wrong and gave Bush “a blank check” to go to war with Iran.

Other questions. If there are suddenly two facilities, why not three, four, or more? Do we know about others that are better left undisclosed? And did we keep quiet about this supposed intelligence coup to allow bold, new diplomatic efforts to proceed — efforts that might not have gone on had the American people learned that the Iranians were escalating, that the IAEA was incompetent or duplicitous, and that the much-publicized diplomatic initiatives Obama set to wow us with in October might be sidetracked if the information were disclosed?

That Iran probably knew all this time that we knew about its additional centrifuges, and that we were deliberately sitting on that information all through our publicized efforts at new outreach (and through our silence during the popular uprisings in Tehran), can’t be reassuring. Moreover, the disclosure of further enriched Iranian uranium takes on added interest as more news is released of various terrorist plots in the U.S., some of them perhaps envisioning the use of WMD.

I hope the prior outrage over faulty intelligence and WMD and Iraq will extend to the latest incompetence — that intelligence agencies that swore in 2007 that Iran stopped working on the bomb in 2003 now, in 2009, have assured the president that their intelligence has disclosed a new Iranian facility that is not used for peaceful purposes.

Obama’s Naïve Outreach

I don’t think the so-called outreach to Russia — a state which has been much of the problem rather than any part of a solution with Iran — will help curb Iran’s nuclear ambition in the slightest. Iran will still try to cause trouble in Iraq and Afghanistan, and will acquire an atomic bomb soon unless it is stopped. And I don’t think Islamists inside the U.S. care a whit that Barack Obama is now president, except when noting their perception of a relaxation in our anti-terror efforts. And I especially don’t think China or Japan cares who is the American president, but will increasingly begin to call in geopolitical chits in exchange for financing our gargantuan and growing debt. In other words, some pretty tough actors are unimpressed by utopian hope and change, and are presently in the process of sizing us up to learn what are the new rules, if any.

And if our outreach — talking to Chávez while snubbing Uribe and the Hondurans, a muffled response to the extradition of the Lockerbie terrorist to Libya, and talking with/sending videos to the Iranian regime — is supposed to pay dividends, I can’t imagine what they might be. Based on the recent unhinged performances at the U.N., I think it is easy to conclude that the anti-Americanism of Ahmadinejad, Chávez, and Qaddafi is some sort of brain disorder.

©2009 Victor Davis Hanson

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