WASHINGTON -- This week, while the masters of America's mainstream media were probing the carnage perpetrated by a deranged, lone gunman in Blacksburg, Va., Defense Secretary Robert Gates was in Israel, discounting the threat posed by an irrational government intent on acquiring nuclear weapons. Neither act makes any sense.
In the aftermath of the tragedy at Virginia Tech, schoolmates, faculty members and law enforcement officials pointed to the gunman's pattern of unbalanced behavior, menacing anger and self-destructive writings. Numerous reports cited rules and privacy laws that barred authorities from acting to thwart the massacre of 32 innocents. Like the killings at Columbine eight years ago this week, and with the same clarity of 20/20 hindsight, "experts" concur that the killing could have been prevented had action been taken months or even years ago. It's a lesson that should be applied to our dealings with the irrational, threatening, self-destructive regime in Tehran.
On April 18, as the potentates of the press were discovering stories of courage and compassion at Virginia Tech, Gates, standing beside his Israeli counterpart, Amir Peretz, declared that they had decided to "deal with the Iranian nuclear problem through diplomacy, which appears to be working." He went on to note that the international community is "united" in this approach. This sounds eerily like urging deeply disturbed, homicidal students to seek counseling and talk about their problems in lieu of more stringent measures that might deter them from committing mass murder.
Unfortunately, the homicidal Islamic radicals running Iran are arming themselves with weapons far more lethal than handguns, and the mass murder they plan to perpetrate will kill millions. And yet, if the advice being proffered by Messrs. Gates and Peretz is followed, we will continue to ignore all the warning signs and "talk" with Iran until it is too late.
The killers at Columbine and Virginia Tech repeatedly denied that they were potentially destructive to themselves or others -- until they acted. They hid their weapons and their intentions while plotting mayhem. That's the same pattern of behavior that the Ayatollahs in Tehran have followed.
The clandestine Iranian nuclear program was underway for nearly 18 years before being discovered. When International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors finally investigated, the Iranians lied and destroyed evidence. Confronted by their European bankers and trading partners two years ago, the theocrats responded with denials, deceit and defiance. When the United Nations passed a "soft sanctions" resolution last December, the Iranian regime expedited the installation of gas centrifuges at their Nantaz uranium enrichment complex. And last month, after the United Nations passed a second sanctions resolution, Tehran announced new limits on "cooperation" with the IAEA and blocked access to their Arak heavy water reactor -- a facility believed capable of producing plutonium for nuclear weapons when completed. And that's not all.
In January, U.S. Special Operations units captured five senior operatives of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps' Quds Force in Irbil, Iraq. In Baghdad, weapons and explosives provided by Iran to Iraqi terror cells were put on display. On March 23, the Iranians responded by taking 15 British military personnel hostage, and threatening the flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz. And there's more.
This week, while the world grieved at the bloodshed in Blacksburg, Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, announced, "We have intercepted weapons in Afghanistan headed for the Taliban that were made in Iran." Hours later, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad defiantly stated that Iran's military would "cut off the hands off any aggressors." This is the same head of state who has promised that "the United States and the Zionist regime of Israel will soon come to the end of their lives."
Despite Gates' confidence in diplomacy, it should be clear that talking with deranged despots is more dangerous than encouraging deeply disturbed gunmen to seek counseling. While there is still time, the United States should take the following five initiatives to deter Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons:
-- Reaffirm that the United States is no longer bound by the abysmal Algiers Accord -- negotiated by Jimmy Carter -- proscribing U.S. intervention in "Iran's internal affairs."
-- Strengthen connections with opposition groups, including the National Council of Resistance of Iran, and other organizations devoted to regime change in Tehran.
-- Ignore "diplomatic" complaints about economic sanctions and inform foreign banks and businesses trading with Iran that they cannot do business in the United States.
-- Publicize Tehran's human rights abuses, as we once did with the Soviet Union.
-- Use Voice of America, Radio Farda and Internet broadcasts to inform the people of Iran of our affection for them, and the dangers posed by their radical, unstable leaders.
Taking these actions now against the irrational regime in Tehran could well prevent the mournful refrain we heard after the carnage in Columbine and Virginia Tech: Why didn't we do something to prevent this terrible toll?
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.