This breathtaking duplicity -- payback for the Louisiana Purchase? -- left the State Department red-faced. (It recouped somewhat when, Thursday night, France reportedly agreed to send 1,500 to 2000 troops.) But the setback was minor compared to what we now face with Iran. Hezbollah in south Lebanon is a major irritant, but a nuclear Iran is a major strategic threat.
The problem is not quite as intractable as North Korea because Iran has not crossed the nuclear threshold. And American diplomacy has, up until now, been defensible. Secretary Rice's June initiative, postponing Security Council debate on sanctions, was meant to keep the allies on board. It offered Iran a major array of economic and diplomatic incentives (including talks with the U.S.), with but a single condition: Iran had to verifiably halt uranium enrichment.
Iran's answer is now in. It will not. Indeed, on the day before it sent its reply to the U.N., Iran barred IAEA inspectors from the uranium enrichment facilities at Natanz. Our exercise in multilateralism has now reached criticality. We never expected Iran to respond positively. The whole point in going the extra mile was to demonstrate American good will and thus get our partners to support real sanctions at the Security Council.
But this will not work. The Russians and Chinese are already sending signals that they will allow Iran to endlessly drag out the process. Even if we do get sanctions imposed on Iran, they will undoubtedly be weak. And even if they are strong, the mullahs will not give up the glory and dominion (especially over the Arabs) that come with the bomb in exchange for a mess of pottage.
Realistically speaking, the point of this multilateral exercise cannot be to stop Iran's nuclear program by diplomacy. That has always been a fantasy. It will take military means. There will be terrible consequences from such an attack. These must be weighed against the terrible consequences of allowing an openly apocalyptic Iranian leadership from acquiring weapons of genocide.
The point of the current elaborate exercise in multilateral diplomacy is to slightly alter that future calculation. By demonstrating extraordinary forbearance and accommodation, perhaps we will have purchased the acquiescence of our closest allies -- Britain, Germany and, yes, France -- to a military strike on that fateful day when diplomacy has run its course.
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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