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V.D. Hanson: "The Multilateral Moment?"

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  • Beowulf
    Analysis by Victor Davis Hanson January 13, 2006, 8:37 a.m. The Multilateral Moment? Our bad and worse choices about Iran. Multilateralism good; preemption
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 1, 2008
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      Analysis by Victor Davis Hanson

      January 13, 2006, 8:37 a.m.
      The Multilateral Moment?
      Our bad and worse choices about Iran.

      "Multilateralism good; preemption and unilateralism bad."

      For four years we have heard these Orwellian commandments as if they were
      inscribed above the door of Farmer Jones's big barn. Now we will learn their
      real currency, since the Americans are doing everything imaginable - drawing
      in the Europeans, coaxing the Russians and Chinese to be helpful at the
      U.N., working with international monitoring agencies, restraining Israel,
      talking to the Arabs, keeping our jets in their hangars - to avoid
      precipitous steps against Iran.

      Its theocracy poses a danger to civilization even greater than a nuclear
      North Korea for a variety of peculiar circumstances. Iran is free of a
      patron like China that might in theory exert moderate influence or even
      insist on occasional restraint. North Korea, for an increasingly wealthy and
      capitalist China, is as much a headache and an economic liability as a
      socialist comrade.

      In contrast, Iran is a cash cow for Russia (and China) and apparently a
      source of opportunistic delight in its tweaking of the West. Iranian
      petro-wealth has probably already earned Tehran at least one, and probably
      two, favorable votes at the Security Council.

      Of course, Tehran's oil revenues allow it access to weapons markets, and
      overt blackmail, both of which are impossible for a starving North Korea.
      And Iran's nuclear facilities are located at the heart of the world's
      petroleum reserves, where even the semblance of instability can drive up
      global oil prices, costing the importing world billions in revenues.

      No one is flocking to Communism, much less Pyongyang's unrepentant, ossified
      Stalinist brand. Islamic radicalism, on the other hand, has declared war on
      Western society and tens of thousands of jihdadists, whether Shiia or
      Sunnis, count on Iran for money, sanctuary, and support. Al Qaeda members
      travel the country that is the spiritual godhead of Hezbollah, and a donor
      of arms and money to radical Palestinian terrorists.

      North Korea can threaten Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, and the western United
      States, and so poses a real danger. But the opportunities for havoc are even
      richer for a nuclear Iran. With nukes and an earned reputation for madness,
      it can dictate to the surrounding Arab world the proper policy of petroleum
      exportation; it can shakedown Europeans whose capitals are in easy missile
      range; it can take out Israel with a nuke or two; or it can bully the
      nascent democracies of the Middle East while targeting tens of thousands of
      US soldiers based from Afghanistan to the Persian Gulf.

      And Iran can threaten to do all this under the aegis of a crazed Islamist
      regime more eager for the paradise of the next world than for the material
      present so dear to the affluent and decadent West. If Iran can play
      brinkmanship now on just the promise of nuclear weapons, imagine its roguery
      to come when it is replete with them.

      When a supposedly unhinged Mr. Ahmadinejad threatens the destruction of
      Israel and then summarily proceeds to violate international protocols aimed
      at monitoring Iran's nuclear industry, we all take note. Any country that
      burns off some of its natural gas at the wellhead while claiming that it
      needs nuclear power for domestic energy is simply lying. Terrorism, vast
      petroleum reserves, nuclear weapons, and boasts of wiping neighboring
      nations off the map are a bad combination.

      So we all agree on the extent of the crisis, but not on the solutions, which
      can be summarized by four general options.

      First is the ostrich strategy - see and hear no evil, if extending
      occasional peace feelers out to more reasonable mullahs. Hope that
      "moderates" in the Iranian government exercise a restraining influence on
      Mr. Ahmadinejad. Sigh that nuclear Iran may well become like Pakistan -
      dangerous and unpredictable, but still perhaps "manageable." Talk as if
      George Bush and the Iranians both need to take a time out.

      I doubt that many serious planners any longer entertain this passive
      fantasy, especially after the latest rantings of Ahmadinejad. Pakistan,
      after all, has some secular leaders, is checked by nuclear India, and has a
      recent past of cooperation with the United States. Most importantly, it is
      more than ever a lesson in past laxity, as the United States and Europe were
      proven criminally derelict in giving Dr. Khan and his nuclear-mart a pass -
      which may well come back to haunt us all yet.

      Alternatively, we could step up further global condemnation. The West could
      press the U.N. more aggressively - repeatedly calling for more resolutions,
      and, ultimately, for sanctions, boycotts, and embargos, energizes our allies
      to cut all ties to Iran, and provides far more money to dissident groups
      inside Iran to rid the country of the Khomeinists. Ensuring that democracy
      works in Iraq would be subversive to the mullahs across the border. Some
      sort of peaceful regime change is the solution preferred by most - and, of
      course, can be pursued in a manner contemporaneous with, not exclusionary
      to, other strategies.

      It is a long-term therapy and therefore suffers the obvious defect that Iran
      might become nuclear in the meantime. Then the regime's resulting
      braggadocio might well deflate the dissident opposition, as the mullahs
      boast that they alone have restored Iranian national prestige with an
      Achaemenid bomb.

      A third, and often unmentionable, course is to allow the most likely
      intended target of nuclear Iran, Israel, to take matters into its own hands.
      We know this scenario from the 1981 destruction of Saddam's French-built
      Osirak nuclear reactor: the world immediately deplores such "unilateral" and
      "preemptory" recklessness, and then sighs relief that Israel, not it, put
      the bell on the fanged cat.

      But 2006 is not 1981. We are in war with Islamic radicalism, at the moment
      largely near the Iranian border in Iraq and Afghanistan. The resulting furor
      over a "Zionist" strike on Shia Iran might galvanize Iraqi Shiites to break
      with us, rather than bring them relief that the Jewish state had eliminated
      a nearby nuclear threat and had humiliated an age-old rival nation and
      bitter former enemy. Thousands of Americans are in range of Iranian
      artillery and short-term missile salvoes, and, in theory, we could face in
      Iraq a conventional enemy at the front and a fifth column at the rear.

      And Iran poses far greater risks than in the past for Israeli pilots flying
      in over the heart of the Muslim world, with 200-300 possible nuclear sites
      that are burrowed into mountains, bunkers and suburbs. Such a mission would
      require greater flight distances, messy refueling, careful intelligence, and
      the need to put Israeli forces on alert for an Iranian counterstrike or a
      terrorist move from Lebanon. Former Israeli friends like Turkey are now not
      so cordial, and the violation of Islamic airspace might in the short-term
      draw an ugly response, despite the eventual relief in Arab capitals at the
      elimination of the Iranian nuclear arsenal.

      If the Israeli raids did not take out the entire structure, or if there were
      already plutonium present in undisclosed bunkers, then the Iranians might
      shift from their sickening rhetoric and provide terrorists in Syria and
      Lebanon with dirty bombs or nuclear devices to "avenge" the attack as part
      of a "defensive" war of "striking back" at "Israeli aggression". Europeans
      might even shrug at any such hit, concluding that Israel had it coming by
      attacking first.

      The fourth scenario is as increasingly dreaded as it is apparently
      inevitable - a U.S. air strike. Most hope that it can be delayed, since its
      one virtue - the elimination of the Iranian nuclear threat - must ipso facto
      outweigh the multifaceted disadvantages.

      The Shiite allies in Iraq might go ballistic and start up a second front as
      in 2004. Muslim countries, the primary beneficiaries of a disarmed Iran,
      would still protest loudly that some of their territories, if only for
      purposes of intelligence and post-operative surveillance, were used in the
      strike. After Iraq, a hit on Iran would confirm to the Middle East Street a
      disturbing picture of American preemptory wars against Islamic nations.

      Experts warn that we are not talking about a Clintonian one-day
      cruise-missile hit, or even something akin to General Zinni's 1998 extended
      Operation Desert Fox campaign. Rather, the challenges call for something far
      more sustained and comprehensive - perhaps a week or two of bombing at every
      imaginable facility, many of them hidden in suburbs or populated areas.
      Commando raids might need to augment air sorties, especially for mountain
      redoubts deep in solid rock.

      The political heat would mount hourly, as Russia, China, and Europe all
      would express shock and condemnation, and whine that their careful
      diplomatic dialogue had once again been ruined by the American outlaws. Soon
      the focus of the U.N. would not be on Iranian nuclear proliferation, or the
      role of Europe, Pakistan, China, and Russia in lending nuclear expertise to
      the theocracy, but instead on the mad bomber-cowboy George Bush. We remember
      that in 1981 the world did not blame the reckless and greedy French for
      their construction of a nuclear reactor for Saddam Hussein, but the sober
      Israelis for taking it out.

      Politically, the administration would have to vie with CNN's daily live
      feeds of collateral damage that might entail killed Iranian girls and boys,
      maimed innocents, and street-side reporters who thrust microphones into
      stretchers of civilian dead. The Europeans' and American Left's slurs of
      empire and hegemony would only grow.

      We remember the "quagmire" hysteria that followed week three in Afghanistan,
      and the sandstorm "pause" that prompted cries that we had lost Iraq. All
      that would be child's play compared to an Iranian war, as retired generals
      and investigative reporters haggled every night on cable news over how many
      reactor sites were still left to go. So take for granted that we would be
      saturated by day four of the bombing with al Jazeera's harangues, perhaps a
      downed and blindfolded pilot or two paraded on television, some gruesome
      footage of arms and legs in Tehran's streets, and the usual Nancy Pelosi and
      Barbara Boxer outtakes.

      So where do these bad and worse choices leave us? Right where we are now -
      holding and circling while waiting for a break in the clouds.

      Still, there are two parameters we should accept - namely, that Iran should
      not be allowed to arm its existing missiles with nukes and that Israel
      should not have to do the dirty work of taking out Iran's nuclear

      The Europeans and the Americans right now must accelerate their efforts and
      bring the crisis to a climax at the Security Council to force China and
      Russia publicly to take sides. India, Pakistan, and the Arab League should
      all be brought in and briefed on the dilemma, and asked to go on record
      supporting U.N. action.

      The public relations war is critical. Zen-like, the United States must
      assure the Europeans, Russians, and Arabs that the credit for a peaceful
      solution would be theirs. The lunacy of the Iranian president should provide
      the narrative of events, and thus be quoted hourly - as we remain largely

      Economically, we should factor in the real possibility that Iranian oil
      might be off the global market, and prepare - we have been here before with
      the Iranian embargo of 1979 - for colossal gasoline price hikes. This should
      also be a reminder that Ahmadinejad, Saddam, Hugo Chavez, and an ascendant
      and increasingly undemocratic Putin all had in common both petrodollar
      largess and desperate Western, Chinese, and Indian importers willing to
      overlook almost anything to slake their thirst. Unless we develop an energy
      policy that collapses the global oil price, for the next half-century expect
      every few years something far creepier than the Saudi Royals and Col.
      Moammar Gadhafi to threaten the world order.

      The Democratic leadership should step up to the plate and, in Truman-esque
      fashion, forge a bipartisan front to confront Iran and make the most of
      their multilateral moment. If the Democrats feel they have lost the public's
      confidence in their stewardship of national security, then the threat of
      Iran offers a Hillary Clinton, Howard Dean, or John Kerry an opportunity to
      get out front now and pledge support for a united effort - attacking Bush
      from the right about too tepid a stance rather from the predictable left
      that we are "hegemonic" and "imperialistic" every time we use force abroad.

      Finally, the public must be warned that dealing with a nuclear Iran is not a
      matter of a good versus a bad choice, but between a very bad one now and
      something far, far worse to come.

      Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. He is the
      author, most recently, of A War Like No Other. How the Athenians and
      Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War
      <http://www.nationalreview.com/redirect/amazon.p?j=1400060958> .
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