WASHINGTON -- "The lion and the bear are hunting the eagle." That's how a refugee from Tehran put it when he called me this week about recent developments in his homeland. The lion to which my friend referred was on the coat of arms of nearly every Persian king for more than a thousand years. The bear, of course, is imperial Russia. We're the bird.
It's an apt metaphor. Vladimir Putin, Moscow's current czar, is behaving like a bear awakened from hibernation -- hungry and territorial. His recent words condemning U.S. foreign policy are mirrored by actions, both overt and covert, aimed at undermining U.S. security. While eschewing animal symbols on their flag, the Islamic radicals running Iran's theocracy act like lions on the prowl -- dangerous to any prey. And while the simile is unlikely in nature -- the lions and bears in my friend's parable have certainly teamed up to hunt the eagle. The only trouble with the allegory is that the United States is acting more like an ostrich than an eagle. A few examples:
Last week Putin told European leaders gathered in Munich that "the United States, has overstepped its national borders in every way." He claimed the United States is forcing weaker nations to "acquire weapons of mass destruction" and defended Moscow's recent sale of $700 million worth of TOR-M1 anti-aircraft batteries to Iran. In an effort to sound less like a bear and more like a Democrat running for the U.S. presidency, he declared that "wars, local and regional conflicts, have only grown in number" and charged America with taking "unilateral, illegitimate actions" in Iraq and elsewhere that "have not managed to resolve any problems, but made them worse."
This week, Gen. Nikolai Solovtsov, commander of Russia's strategic missile forces, warned the United States against installing anti-ballistic missile (ABM) defenses in Eastern Europe. Construction is scheduled to begin on an ABM interceptor site in Poland and on a radar array in the Czech Republic later this year. Both are components of a U.S.-NATO defense system to shield against a nuclear attack. In a clear-cut effort to intimidate the Czechs and the Poles to reconsider their participation, Solovtsov suggested that Russia may abrogate the 1987 Nuclear Forces Treaty and observed that Russia's "strategic missile forces will be capable of targeting these facilities."
While Moscow was busy dusting off its Cold War nuclear attack plans, Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency -- the United Nations' toothless "nuclear watchdog" -- told the U.N. Security Council that Iran has increased production of weapons-grade uranium and decreased cooperation with the IAEA. ElBaradei told the Financial Times that Iran will be able to enrich uranium on an industrial scale within six months.
The phrase "industrial scale" is diplo-speak for "sufficient to build nuclear weapons." U.S. and British intelligence agencies believe that much of the technology being used by Iranian engineers to construct 3,000 gas centrifuges to enrich uranium is being obtained from Moscow. In response to this frightening report, Russia's ambassador to the United Nations once again threatened to veto any resolution tightening sanctions on Tehran.
For their part, the lions in Iran have clearly stated their perspective on nuclear arms. In December 2001, Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani publicly announced that a nuclear exchange "would not leave any thing in Israel, but the same thing would just produce (minor) damages in the Muslim world." Last week, after rejecting an offer for multi-party talks on stopping the production of fissile nuclear material, Iran's mercurial President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad accused the United States of pursuing false peace initiatives while secretly plotting with Israel to "hit Islamic countries," presumably with nuclear weapons.
But Moscow and Tehran aren't just cooperating on weapons of mass destruction. Last week, U.S. and allied officials in Baghdad presented irrefutable evidence that Iran has been supplying advanced weaponry to anti-coalition forces and killing Americans -- charges Ahmadinejad describes as "excuses to prolong the stay" of U.S. forces in Iraq.
On Wednesday, Iraqi terrorists downed another U.S. helicopter -- the eighth in the last five weeks. A U.S. commander on the ground told me that "nearly new SA-14 and SA-16 man-portable surface-to-air missiles are now being used against us" in Iraq. Source of the weapons: Russia -- sold to Iran and slipped across the porous border for delivery to Iranian-supported terror cells inside Iraq. Cooperation between the bear and the lion, indeed.
Meanwhile, there is no "Eagle-Eye" on this burgeoning Moscow-Tehran nexus of evil. Our mainstream media remains fixated on the never-ending Anna Nicole Smith soap opera. The State Department is furiously cranking out press releases on how Condi is going to convene yet another "Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process." And the navel-gazers in Congress busy themselves by doing all things possible to damage the commander-in-chief, regardless of the consequences to our troops.
Those who think none of this matters should consider the comments of Iran's "Supreme Spiritual Guide." After meeting this week with Syrian President Bashar Assad, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the leading "lion" in Tehran, said Bush's position "is so weak that even members of his own party criticize him." It's time for the eagle to pull his head out of the sand.