Exclusive: Nuclear Terrorism: Iran Presents ‘Clear and Present Danger’ (Part Seven of Ten)

by PETER HUESSY April 1, 2010
When the administration took office last year, it extended an open hand to Tehran. No one doubted the sincerity of the administration, and it probably baffled the rulers of Iran – how should they respond? On North Korea, despite threats and bullying behavior, the U.S. Defense Secretary had coolly noted, "We are not going to buy that pony again" in turning down suggestions that the U.S. should ramp up assistance to Pyongyang to quiet Kim Jong Il. Were the mullahs watching?
They quickly complained the administration's extended hand was a 'trick," threatened to build even more nuclear facilities, launched dozens of ballistic missiles and generally went about their terrorism business much as they had before. What they did not count on was the affect of the summer elections. Iran may not be a very transparent sector of the world, but with modern communications it became apparent the regime probably lost badly in the elections and rigged the vote to claim a victory.
Thus administration officials were quick to argue that engagement worked – Iran was divided and more isolated internationally. Corporate entities were deciding to stop doing business with the country. And so it was thought, Russia was not as supportive as it once was. David Ignatius of the Washington Post explained that without the Great Satan to blame, the Iranians have been accident-prone: "We are seeing pushback against Iran in Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq and Afghanistan." He concludes that Iran also understands that the U.S. could make it very much more difficult to continue "spinning centrifuges"...even as "that nice Mr. Obama assures Tehran" that we are ready for a deal.
However, it is not that engagement made Iran ready to "make a deal." What is argued is that engagement set Iran up to be hit with even more severe sanctions. It was now obvious [finally!]the Iranians were not interested in any kind of deal complying with the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Their obstreperous behavior could not be chalked up to anything Washington had done wrong.
However, here things took a turn perhaps not anticipated. The idea of invoking further sanctions was to "get a deal" consistent with a nuclear weapons-free mullah-land. Nevertheless, since no sanctions have yet been adopted that go beyond the three rounds of sanctions previously adopted by the UN Security Council, we do not know yet what the future brings. That is where the crystal ball gets somewhat cloudy.
 If the regime believes God himself has directed them to kill the Great Satan and the Little Satan (Israel), then any negotiation is simply an Iranian tactic to buy time. Thus it is that we have set deadlines, in all apparent intention to enforce our will, only to see such deadlines come and go, as the UN, China, and Russia take further time to determine what road they want to travel. Therefore, we are now faced with choices, not any one of them without difficulty:  (1) Continued engagement backed by today's sanctions; (2) additional crippling sanctions to force a deal; (3) containment and deterrence; or (4) regime change.
Something happened since the summer Iranian elections. The landscape shifted. No longer was it a choice between the status quo inherited from the previous administration and engagement. The choice now was what kind of sanctions – those to push for a change in regime behavior or in the regime itself such as the Congressional initiative to cut of refined petroleum products or sanction Iran's central bank? Moreover, if these options failed, would we fall back on deterrence and containment, and cross our fingers that the Mullahs, believing they are commanded by God to bring about Armageddon, would suddenly shift and accept a deterrent balance with the United States and its allies?
This is to say nothing of whether the American public would be willing to accept a "mutual assured destruction" balance of sorts with the Iranians where we leave them to terrorize their neighborhood and hope they do not extend their reach into our backyard. In short, what is on the table today is a new issue: whether this entire option of engagement and "the deal" should be abandoned in favor of a policy of regime change, especially given the outpouring of hatred toward the regime by millions of Iranians in the aftermath of the summer elections, chanting "death to the supreme leader" and
"death to Ahmadinejad."
Options Ahead
Some view the Iranian landscape through the lens of a number of "war games" recently conducted to illustrate the perils of alternative paths to secure Iranian compliance with the NPT. For example, a simulation played at Harvard the first week of December concluded that the strategy for the U.S. was one of primarily restraining Israel. According to a report in the Washington Post, the U.S. "was confounded by congressional demands for unilateral U.S. sanctions against companies involved in Iran's energy sector. This shot at Iran ended up backfiring, since some of the key companies were from Russia and China – the very nations whose support the U.S. needs for strong UN sanctions. The Russians and Chinese were so offended that they began negotiating behind America's back." Professor Gary Sick of Columbia and the leader of the Iranian team said by the end of 2010 Iran had doubled its supply of low-enriched uranium and proceeded apace with weaponization. Nicholas Burns, who played the role of the U.S. President, noted, "The most difficult problem we have is how to restrain Israe.l. 
Others experts see things slightly differently but roughly the same. Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski of the Carter administration concludes that it is unclear whether Iran wants nuclear weapons or simply wants the capability to build them. He suggests we should try and use sanctions but do not count on such sanctions to work. In that event, he says the U.S. should offer a defense umbrella to our allies that will defend them and retaliate against Iran should Iran attack them.
As for regime change, he supports only rhetorical support for the opposition in Iran since we do not have the power to change the regime. He believes, however, that time is on the side of the West and the U.S. because the new generation in Iran is not happy with the regime and can change the regime from within. In the meantime, Brzezinski says we should not do things that will harm the population "such as sanctions" and we "must not attack Iran, either the U.S. or Israel." If we do, he warns, "hard-line elements would rise to the top in Iran, isolate the U.S., and turn world opinion against the U.S." [Who does he think runs Iran now?!]
But there are other emerging views that previously have not been part of the Iranian debate. In the Wall Street Journal, Bret Stephens does an admirable job of laying out some other options beyond containment or engagement. He explains a military strike will only buy us time, but so did the Israeli strike on the Osirak reactor in 1981. Would Iranians rally behind the mullahs? Not necessarily as the demonstrators in Iran are increasingly allied with a "no nukes" movement. Remember, the Argentinean junta whipped up a nationalist fervor yet fell one week after Port Stanley of the Falklands fell to the Brits.
While serious sanctions are not a "silver bullet," they might be "silver buckshot," (Steve Flynn's artful phrase) or silver shrapnel, (from FDD's Mark Dubowitz). And as Gen. Jones has noted such action as helping the democratic opposition may in fact bring about "regime change" although U.S. policy is not designed to bring that about.
Stephens also questions whether we can live with a nuclear-armed Iran as we did with the Soviet Union. He warns, as have many others, that a nuclear-armed Iran would result in a cascade of new nuclear powers. He also deals with the assumption that the current regime in Iran is headed for the ash heap of history; we have long assumed the same of the Castro and Kim tyrannies in Cuba and North Korea. But waiting for such change is not a policy but hope and prayer. We need the regime to go quickly but quietly.
As for the charge that if we support the democratic opposition, it will help the regime identify its opponents as allied with the "Great Satan," in other times and paces our support is often described as conferring moral legitimacy upon a cause such as Tibetan democracy or freedom in South Africa. Why not Iran? And finally, Stephens questions the fallback position that "Israel will do it", further explaining that such an attack could probably not be sustained and whether it is a good idea to "outsource" our security policy.
On December 7, 2009, Victor Davis Hanson summarized our dilemma. It is worth quoting here at length: "Iran is ratcheting up its production of enriched uranium; an Iranian bomb to destroy Israel would propel Iran to claim primacy over radical Islam; the clout of Hamas and Hezbollah would grow exponentially; a nuclear arms race would begin the Gulf and Middle East."
He laments, "U.S. deadlines continue to be ignored; Iran has no respect or the international order we are so keen on getting them to join. Behind closed doors the Iranian regime probably cannot conceal its surprise and delight at what it has gotten away with. For more than 10 years, Tehran has succeeded in deceiving foreign governments, thwarting nuclear inspectors and keeping sanctions weak and feckless. During that time, Iran has not broken stride in expanding its nuclear program, and it has now announced plans for 10 new enrichment facilities. Tehran's greatest feat has been its success in lulling global leaders -- including many in the U.S. administration and Congress -- into complacency, based on the belief that the threat posed by Iran's nuclear weapons program can be negotiated away through engagement and concessions by the West. This approach also largely ignores the totality of Iran's multifaceted threat."
If deterrence would work, why would an Iranian bomb be a disaster?
The cover of Foreign Affairs this month is an article titled “After Iran Gets the Bomb;” it draws scenarios for dealing with what many believe is inevitable. Meanwhile, the administration races to add antimissile systems and a naval presence in the Gulf – an effort to contain Iran’s power in the region, officials say, but it sure looks like the building blocks of a nuclear containment policy, a backup in case the next round of sanctions fails to do the trick.
Last week, at the University of Oklahoma, Mr. Brzezinski argued that either an Iranian bomb or an attack on Iran would be “a calamity, a disaster.” He said containment much like during the Cold War could work because Iran “may be dangerous, assertive and duplicitous, but there is nothing in their history to suggest they are suicidal.”
James Lindsay and Ray Takeyh concede that the Iran case differs substantially from the cold war ones, and that a successful strategy today would have to recognize that fact. They urge the administration to prescribe three explicit no-go zones for the Iranians: “no initiation of conventional warfare” against another nation; “no transfer of nuclear weapons, materials, or technologies;” and "no increase in support for terrorists." The penalty, they argued, would have to include “military retaliation by any and all means necessary,” including the use of nuclear weapons.
But think? Would we strike a nuclear agreement with AQ, the Taliban or any major terrorist group? Then why would we with Iran, if Iran is motivated by the same impetus to use nuclear weapons against the US as are the Taliban, Al Qaeda, Abu Sayef or other terror groups, including the very groups created and allied with Iran, such as Hamas and Hezbollah? As David Sanger of the New York Times correctly warned recently, the real danger from Iran is that it transfers a nuclear weapon to a handpicked terrorist group that then covertly detonates the weapon in an American city. No deterrent strategy would work here, of course, so we are back to square one. Can you strike a deal with a fanatical regime bent on your destruction? Or maybe there is in fact an alternative – a world without the Mullahs, the terror masters of our worst nightmares.  

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