Iran: Where Clinton diddled, Bush must act

Ben Shapiro
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Posted: Jul 09, 2003 12:00 AM

Iran had better be next on the U.S. hit list. Sometime within the last few weeks, Iran successfully test-launched its Shahab-3 ballistic missile. The Shahab-3, based on the North Korean Nodong-1 missile (and updated with Russian technology), has a range of 1,300 kilometers, meaning that both Israel and U.S. troops in the region must now live in the shadow of the Iranian military. The Iranian government has already stated that it will now deploy the Shahab-3.

These missiles might soon become nuclear. For over a decade, Russia has been providing aid to Iran in Iran's quest to develop nuclear weaponry. The Russians have helped Iran construct two nuclear power plants at Bushehr; one is virtually complete. While claiming that it does not actively seek to build a nuke, Iran has signed contracts with Russia to import 5,500 kilograms of uranium. One crude nuclear bomb would require only 25 kilos of enriched uranium.

Aside from the devastating enrichment capabilities of Bushehr, Iran is already utilizing lasers and centrifuges to enrich uranium. Natural uranium has gone missing from Tehran, and Tehran has been unwilling to explain just where it went.

How did the Iranians ever get this far? The Clinton administration let them. In 1995, Vice President Al Gore signed a secret agreement with Russian Prime Minister Victor Chernomyrdin that allowed the Russians to export sophisticated weapons to Iran without fear of U.S.-imposed sanctions. In return, Gore received assurances that Russia would stop selling weapons to the Iranians after Dec. 31, 1999. According to Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.), this agreement was not reported to Congress.

Not only was the Gore-Chernomyrdin agreement kept from Congress, it blatantly contradicted the 1992 Iran-Iraq Arms Nonproliferation Act -- an act co-sponsored by then-Sen. Al Gore. That bill required that the United States place sanctions on any country that sold "destabilizing numbers and types of advanced conventional weapons to Iran." In fact, Clinton administration Secretary of State Madeleine Albright acknowledged that without the Gore-Chernomyrdin agreement, Russia would have certainly fallen under U.S. sanctions.

But the biggest problem with the Gore-Chernomyrdin deal was that it was a dismal failure. After the deadline passed, Russia simply continued selling powerful conventional and unconventional weapons technology and materials to the mullahs. As Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) stated in October 2000, "To my mind, we're facing a crisis in coming years, and responsibility can largely be laid at the feet of (the Clinton) administration."

With the Iranians well on their way to developing long-range nuclear missiles, the Bush administration is faced with another pre-emptive war. Forget Liberia -- Iran should be the next target. Iran would be a better target than Iraq was: Iran is a major terrorist center, Iran is destabilizing the Iraqi reconstruction, Iran will certainly develop weapons of mass destruction in the near future, and the Iranian people are already pressing for their liberation.

But will the Bush administration push for war or play the waiting game? So far, the waiting game looks like the solid bet. The Washington Post reported on June 23 that the Bush administration is pursuing a policy of working within the United Nations and the international community to stymie Iranian nuclear efforts.

Pundits hope that the Iranian regime spontaneously combusts. Middle East expert Michael Ledeen of National Review says that "the regime is in a real jam." But will the obvious unrest in Iran translate into the drastic action necessary to not only topple the current regime but end the Iranian threat?

Without strong American involvement in any regime change, will the threat of Iranian military aggression be subdued? A new regime does not necessarily mean a pro-American regime. If America takes an active role in toppling the mullahs, perhaps Iranian anti-government feeling can be parlayed into pro-America sentiment. If not, any newly instituted Iranian regime could take the same foreign-policy tack as the current government.

The wait-and-see policy also holds the danger that no regime change will occur; the mullahs will have bought themselves months or years in which to manufacture nuclear weapons. Intelligence already shows that the Iranian government is dispersing its nuclear weapons program, making it virtually invulnerable to a 1981 Israeli-style pre-emptive bombing attack.

It is not comforting to see the Bush administration relying on the United Nations and International Atomic Energy Agency to shut down the mullahs. These organizations didn't get the job done in Iraq or North Korea, and Iran is infinitely more dangerous than either of those countries. Playing the waiting game is not a viable option.