It has become an article of faith in certain circles that President Bush fought an unnecessary and ill-advised war with Iraq. Most of his critics believe that, instead of needlessly using military force to overthrow Saddam Hussein and to liberate his country, the President could instead have “internationalized” the problem.
Lest anyone actually think such an alternative course of action to the U.S.-led invasion was available – let alone a viable one, the United Nations and its International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have provided a helpful corrective with their response in recent days to Iran’s burgeoning nuclear weapons program.
In the past few months, it has become ever more clear that, under the leadership of its radical Islamic clerics, Iran has been beavering away for nearly two decades on a covert nuclear weapons program. It has done so in violation of that nation’s obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), according to which it was allowed to receive nuclear technology for peaceful purposes on condition that it promised not to divert such technology or otherwise to engage in weapons-related activities.
Nonetheless, defectors have revealed the existence of Iranian facilities that had not been disclosed to the IAEA, some of which are assumed to be intended for bomb-making. The IAEA itself has detected traces of highly enriched uranium that are consistent with covert production of weapons-grade materials needed for nuclear arms.
In addition, the Iranians have made no secret of their pursuit of long-range ballistic missiles capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction – including nuclear ones – to Israel, other targets throughout the Middle East and, in due, course Europe and beyond.
The response of the so-called “international community” to the evident Iranian intention to go nuclear has been all too familiar. Just as it preferred to continue to express concern about – and occasionally to denounce – Saddam Hussein’s serial violations of the Gulf War cease-fire accords and successive UN resolutions, the IAEA wants very much to do nothing meaningful about Iran.
This fecklessness was on display last week in Vienna as the IAEA debated a lengthy report prepared by its inspectors. As the New York Times observed, the report “described in great detail Iran’s deceptions, including its attempt to use an exotic laser technology to enrich uranium.” The most hotly disputed portion of this report, however, was its contention that, “There is no evidence that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program.” As Groucho Marx famously put it, who are you going to believe – me or your own eyes?”
The U.S. representative, Ambassador Kenneth Brill, challenged the IAEA’s see-no-evil conclusion. “It will take time to overcome the damage caused to the agency's credibility by this highly unfortunate and misleading ‘no evidence’ turn of phrase.” According to the Los Angeles Times, the IAEA director, Mohamed ElBaradei, a former law professor at New York University, sallied forth to defend his organization’s honor saying “ the report used the word ‘evidence’ to mean ‘proof’ – words that he argued were interchangeable in a legal sense.”
In fact, Secretary of State Colin Powell has been quoted as saying that he believed the evidence inevitably led to the conclusion that Iran intended to build a weapon, even if it had not yet succeeded. ElBaradei declared, “I cannot verify intentions.”
If this sounds familiar, it bears an uncanny resemblance to the line ElBaradei and his colleague, Hans Blix, the then-head of the UN weapons inspection program in Iraq, employed to excuse Iraqi non-compliance in the run-up to war last Spring.
Another reprise of the international community’s dithering over Iraq is to be found in the role France and Germany have been playing vis a vis Iran – this time around, joined by Great Britain.
Last month, the three European countries’ foreign ministers traveled to Tehran for the purpose of securing still more promises from the mullahs that they would not build nuclear weapons. In exchange, the EU diplomats publicly assured the Iranians that, their countries would reward improved behavior (such as Tehran’s agreement not to reprocess nuclear reactor fuel and its signing up to – and implementing – a new, more intrusive inspection accord with the IAEA) with still more Western nuclear technology.
It would appear that the Europeans also pledged to preclude the United States from doing anything to denuclearize Iran, either via the UN Security Council or through covert or military means.
Interestingly, press reports indicate that the French and Russians gave similar assurances to Saddam Hussein a while back. Tariq Aziz, the erstwhile Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq, is said to have told his American captors that the Iraqi despot’s friends promised him they would delay and, if necessary, veto any American-initiated UN punitive action. Only President Bush’s determination to take steps alone, if necessary, and if possible with a “coalition of the willing” enabled Saddam to be overthrown, his country liberated and the threat he posed to his neighbors and us liquidated.
As long as veto-wielding Security Council members are determined to thwart UN action, it is a non-starter to think we can “internationalize” a problem like that posed in the past by Iraq or by Iran (and North Korea, for that matter) today. And doing nothing generally means allowing the initiative to pass to those who will use whatever time they are given to increase the danger they pose to us. This is neither evidence of the judgment necessary to provide competent national leadership, nor a formula for American security.