Three years ago in this space, I warned that "the biggest development of the last decade is being overlooked: Russia is renewing her relations with America's enemies." In specific, I cited the fact that "the Russians are binding themselves tightly to Iran and North Korea … "
In three years, the situation has grown no less frightening. In fact, the Russian government has expanded its ties with the still-existent members of President Bush's "Axis of Evil." This week, the UK Telegraph reported, "Former members of the Russian military have been secretly helping Iran to acquire technology needed to produce missiles capable of striking European capitals. The Russians are acting as go-betweens with North Korea as part of a multi-million pound deal they negotiated between Tehran and Pyongyang in 2003. It has enabled Tehran to receive regular clandestine shipments of top secret missile technology, believed to be channeled through Russia." A senior American official explained to the Telegraph, "I think Putin knows what the Iranians are doing."
Of course, the Bush administration has been worried about Iran's development of weapons of mass destruction since its election in 2000. The newest member of the Bush foreign policy team, U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, recently reiterated the administration's concerns in the British media, stating that Iran is "determined to get nuclear weapons deliverable on ballistic missiles it can then use to intimidate not only its own region but possibly to supply to terrorists."
But concern means nothing without the credible threat of action. And since the rise of the Ayatollahs, America has offered little but empty threats. During the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, America's interaction with Iran was restricted mainly to arms dealing through the Iran-Contra linkage and supplying arms to both sides during the Iran-Iraq war.
Abdication reached new heights during the Clinton years; according to Louis J. Freeh, the director of the FBI under Clinton, Clinton's foreign policy honchos were so afraid of alienating the mullahs that during the Khobar Towers bombing investigation, they attempted to assuage Iranian feelings by ignoring evidence linking Tehran to the deaths of 19 Americans. Later, President Clinton would write a letter to the Iranian president reading, "We think you may be involved in the murder of our 19 Americans at Khobar. Please help us or you won't get better trade assistance or foreign relations by the United States." According to Freeh, the letter was mistakenly delivered "to the spiritual leader, who went berserk … It compromised the Saudis, because it was clear from the letter that the Saudis had told us about the Iranians."
Now the Bush administration can do little beyond hope, pray and complain. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice not only failed to persuade the Russian government that Iran should be taken to task before the U.N. Security Council this week; her criticism of Iran actually created a pro-Tehran backlash among Putin's supporters. "Iran, like any other country, has the full right to develop its peaceful nuclear energy," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated on Russian television. "No one, including the United States, will challenge our right to continue building the atomic electricity station in Bushehr." Putin himself stated that Iran should be supervised only by the International Atomic Energy Agency, which has proven itself incapable of true supervision time and time again.
Unfortunately, the Bush administration cannot even aspire to a credible threat of action at this point. American foreign policy has been so undermined by the anti-war movement, media opposition and poor public relations by the Bush administration that even threatening military action against Iran would be untenable. This is the chief problem with the left's attempted subversion of the war in Iraq: It has reinforced the impression that Americans cannot maintain a strong foreign policy in the face of a determined opposition. Such an impression will only lead to greater anti-American activity in the Muslim world. Meanwhile, Americans become more and more convinced that in order for us to consider military or covert action, a threat must fully materialize beyond a shadow of a doubt. This is a recipe for disaster: an unwilling public, an unable administration and an unafraid enemy.