Friday, December 4, 2009

Soft Diplomacy Won't Stop the Iranian Regime...

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San Jose Mercury News

Iran just announced a radical expansion of its uranium-enrichment facilities. The news followed the recent disclosure of the country's previously secret nuclear facility near the city of Qom — and came just two days after the International Atomic Energy Agency's censure of Iran for its failure to halt enrichment. In other words, instead of complying with international requests to stand down, Iran has decided to step up efforts to enrich uranium, which, despite the government's denial, is all but certainly intended for a bomb. Iran does not need nuclear power for electrical generation. It has the world's second-largest natural gas reserves at more than 950 trillion cubic feet. That's enough to meet its current rate of consumption for more than 230 years. And it earns plenty of foreign cash as the world's fourth-largest oil producer, with about 4 million barrels pumped each day. Instead, Iran sees all sorts of geopolitical advantages in getting the bomb. Iran's theocratic leaders promote its pathological hatred of Israel. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denies the Holocaust. He periodically threatens the Jewish state with abject destruction, calling Israel "a dead rat" and "a stinking corpse." At best, his nuclear missiles would be a permanent sword of Damocles over Israel's head. At worst, in apocalyptic fashion, he could claim for Persian Shiites the primacy of radical Islam by destroying, once and for all, the "Zionist entity." Iran also gives billions in aid to murderous organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas. Their clout would grow exponentially if they could scare Western allies with the threat of nuclear terrorism.

Right now, Iran thinks it is in the driver's seat. The Obama administration set a series of informal deadlines early this fall for Iran to comply with nonproliferation protocols — and kept repeating itself, first at the United Nations meeting in New York, then during the G-20 summit, and finally in face-to-face October meetings. All were ignored. The United States unilaterally offered to restore direct negotiations with Tehran. It asked to arrange uranium enrichment for Iran abroad. During the recent mass democratic protests against the Iranian theocracy, the Obama administration initially balked at expressing solidarity with the reformers — apparently reluctant to offend the Ahmadinejad regime. All this "reset" button diplomacy came amid President Barack Obama's apologies abroad for past American behavior. We've sent peace feelers out to former enemies like Venezuela's Hugo Chávez and the Castro brothers of Cuba. Obama bowed to the Japanese emperor on his recent Asia trip; earlier, he did the same with the Saudi king. Apparently, Iran has watched this new kindly American approach, and come to a few dark conclusions, namely that a handful of nuclear bombs will give Iran political leverage, and that, in this new climate, it is well worth the (decreasing) risk in getting them. Obama should tread carefully and take note. As history shows, even a trivial gesture can result in dire unintended consequences. In 1950, Secretary of State Dean Acheson's inadvertent remark that South Korea lay outside the American "defense perimeter" in Asia may have emboldened the North Koreans to invade later that summer. Obama's serial deadlines and hope and change rhetoric have had no effect on the Iranians. Obama can either accept that the theocracy will go nuclear and live with it, or he must take graduated steps to stop them. That would start with sanctions, boycotts and embargoes — and strong support for Iranian reformers. If all that fails, we should consider a blockade of Iranian ports.