The Bush administration is adrift on Iran foreign policy. Having negotiated for two years without stopping Iran from enriching uranium, the negotiation strategy dictated by Secretary Condoleezza Rice and the Department of State must now be declared a complete failure. Now, the only option left to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon appears to be the military option. Yet, a military strike on Iran by either the U.S. or Israel would be a tragedy, another indication of how truly inept has been President Bush and Secretary Rice’s handling of Iran.
Appearing on the Don Imus TV-radio show on Inauguration Day, Jan. 20, 2005, Vice President Dick Cheney suggested that Israel might launch a pre-emptive attack against Iran, arguing that “if the Israelis became convinced the Iranians had significant nuclear capability, given the fact that Iran has a stated policy that their objective is the destruction of Israel, the Israelis might well decide to act first, and to let the rest of the world worry about cleaning up the diplomatic mess afterwards.”
The vice president’s comments almost suggested that the U.S. government would prefer Israel to strike first, saving the United States the political difficulty of launching a second pre-emptive war in the Middle East. The administration was already on record suggesting that America would support Israel’s right to do so.
In his Inaugural Address later that day, Bush also spoke in a way that encouraged dissidents within Iran to oppose the regime. By proclaiming that U.S. foreign policy would support the growth of democratic movements and institutions worldwide, President Bush spoke words that were heard in Tehran as a message of hope: “When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you.”
Yet how would the Bush administration support dissidents within Iran who might seek to overthrow the mullahs? That question was never answered.
As Bush entered his second term, the administration’s foreign policy on the Middle East seemed to go soft. The second term, however, began with Rice and President Bush taking diplomatic trips to Europe.
Speaking in Brussels Feb. 21, 2005, the president still spoke harshly about Iran, stating, “For the sake of peace, the Iranian regime must end its support for terrorism and must not develop nuclear weapons. In safeguarding the security of free nations, no option can be taken permanently off the table.” But in the very next sentence, Bush suggested diplomacy would be the administration’s first choice, just as diplomacy was the first choice argued by the Sharon government in Israel:
We’re in the early stages of diplomacy. The United States is a member of the IAEA Board of Governors, which has taken the lead on this issue. We’re working closely with Britain, France and Germany as they oppose Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and as they insist that Tehran comply with international law.
Now the Bush administration finds itself at an all too predictable dead end with the United Nations. What has become clear is that Russia and China are too deeply allied with Iran to permit a resolution passing the Security Council with strong sanctions. With Iran defying the U.N. deadline of Aug. 31, to accept a package of incentives in exchange for stopping uranium enrichment, the Bush administration finds itself forced to concede to the Europeans and allow another two weeks for talks.
President Reagan, in sharp contrast, designed a policy to press the Soviet Union into collapse by advancing our Star Wars initiative and working with the world oil producers to increase supply and reduce price to the point where the Soviet Union faced bankruptcy. Even on the rhetorical front, President Bush has yet to utter against Iran anything even remotely effective as Reagan’s unforgettable challenge, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
We had hoped that Secretary Rice would bring to the State Department a renewed vigor and a determination to effect a policy of regime change in Iran. Disappointingly, she has become yet another casualty of State’s failed “engage and contain” strategy for dealing with Iran. Despite the efforts of Sens. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., and Sam Brownback, R-Kan., the State Department has steadfastly resisted dispersing funds to groups that could have cause a Ukrainian-style Orange Revolution to occur in Iran. Even today, regime change in Tehran is not the State Department’s current policy.
By now, Iran must have come to the conclusion that the United States is weak and unable to stop its advance, except through military action. The Iranian goal has not changed – to buy time, always dodging to avoid sanctions or any other form of serious international pressure to contain their nuclear program verifiably to civilian purposes.
In writing “Atomic Iran,” I feared that the world would ultimately abandon Israel to the point where an Israeli pre-emptive attack on Iran would become unavoidable. Though I predicted this outcome, I continue to think an attack on Iran is the worst possible outcome to the conflict.
The problem is time is running out. Every day the Ahmadinejad regime gains more time to solve the technical problems involved in uranium enrichment. How long can Israel afford to wait before launching a Sampson-option strike on Iran?
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