WASHINGTON -- Did we invade the wrong country? One of the lessons now being drawn from the 9/11 report is that Iran was the real threat. It had links to al Qaeda, allowed some of the 9/11 hijackers to transit through, and is today harboring al Qaeda leaders. The Iraq War critics have a new line of attack: We should have done Iran instead of Iraq.
Well, of course Iran is a threat and a danger. But how exactly would the critics have ``done'' Iran? Iran is a serious country with a serious army. Compared to Iraq, an invasion of Iran would have been infinitely more costly. Can you imagine these critics, who were shouting ``quagmire'' and ``defeat'' when the low-level guerrilla war in Iraq intensified in April, actually supporting war with Iran?
If not war, what then? We know the central foreign policy principle of Bush critics: multilateralism. Kerry and the Democrats have said it a hundred times: The source of our troubles is Bush's insistence on ``going it alone.'' They promise to ``rejoin the community of nations'' and ``work with our allies.''
Well, that happens to be exactly what we have been doing on Iran. And the policy is an abject failure. The Bush administration, having decided that invading one axis-of-evil country was about as much as either the military or the country can bear, has gone multilateral on Iran, precisely what the Democrats advocate. Washington delegated the issue to a committee of three -- the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany -- that has been meeting with the Iranians to get them to shut down their nuclear program.
The result? They have been led by the nose. Iran is caught red-handed with illegally enriched uranium, and the Tehran Three prevail upon the Bush administration to do nothing while they persuade the mullahs to act nice. Therefore, we do not go to the U.N. Security Council to declare Iran in violation of the Nonproliferation Treaty. We do not impose sanctions. We do not begin squeezing Iran to give up its nuclear program.
Instead, we give Iran more time to swoon before the persuasive powers of ``Jack of Tehran'' -- British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw -- until finally, humiliatingly, Iran announces that it will resume enriching uranium and that nothing will prevent it from becoming a member of the ``nuclear club.''
The result has not been harmless. Time is of the essence, and the runaround that the Tehran Three have gotten from the mullahs has meant that we have lost at least nine months in doing anything to stop the Iranian nuclear program.
The fact is that the war critics have nothing to offer on the single most urgent issue of our time -- rogue states in pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. Iran instead of Iraq? The Iraq critics would have done nothing about either country. There would today be two major Islamic countries sitting on an ocean of oil, supporting terrorism and seeking weapons of mass destruction -- instead of one.
Two years ago there were five countries supporting terror and pursuing WMDs -- two junior-leaguers, Libya and Syria, and the axis-of-evil varsity: Iraq, Iran and North Korea. The Bush administration has just eliminated two: Iraq, by direct military means, and Libya, by example and intimidation.
Syria is weak and deterred by Israel. North Korea, having gone nuclear, is untouchable. That leaves Iran. What to do? There are only two things that will stop the Iranian nuclear program: revolution from below or an attack on its nuclear facilities.
The country should be ripe for revolution. The regime is detested. But the mullahs are very good at police-state tactics. The long-awaited revolution is not happening.
Which makes the question of pre-emptive attack all the more urgent. Iran will go nuclear during the next presidential term. Some Americans wishfully think that the Israelis will do the dirty work for us, as in 1981 when they destroyed Saddam's nuclear reactor. But for Israel, attacking Iran is a far more difficult proposition. It is farther away. Moreover, detection and antiaircraft technology are far more advanced than 20 years ago.
There may be no deus ex machina. If nothing is done, a fanatical terrorist regime openly dedicated to the destruction of the ``Great Satan'' will have both nuclear weapons and the terrorists and missiles to deliver them. All that stands between us and that is either revolution or pre-emptive strike.
Both of which, by the way, are far more likely to succeed with 146,000 American troops and highly sophisticated aircraft standing by just a few miles away -- in Iraq.
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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