Fourth, we have a deep misunderstanding of the nature and aims of the Iranian regime. Despite praise from Bill Clinton, Iran’s “liberal” plebiscites were never democratic. Candidates were always carefully prescreened, free expression was curtailed, and dissident voices were jailed (and worse). Before 9/11, Hezbollah, with Iran’s help, had killed more Americans than any other terrorist organization. No wonder President Ahmadinejad now asks crowds to envision “a world without America.”
The Iraqi Study Group says Iran also worries about spillover chaos in Iraq. That is laughable. The opposite is true. The present killing and violence in Iraq divert American attention away from its effort to go nuclear and its interests in Lebanon. As Yahya Rahim Safavi, the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, gleefully put it, “The Americans are sunk in the quagmire of Afghanistan and Iraq, and there is no way for them (to move either) forward or backward.” So, if Iran finds benefits in an unstable Iraq, why would it wish to play a constructive role?
Instead of worrying about negotiating with Iran, we need to be primarily preparing for the awful day when Iran can arm its missiles with nuclear weapons. President Bush should keep pressing for tough U.N.-endorsed global trade sanctions against Iran for violating the United Nations’ own resolutions. And instead of talking to murderous mullahs, we should reach out more to Iranian democratic dissidents.
Ultimately, though, only collapsing the world oil price to below $30 a barrel can stop Iran’s ability to fund terrorists, buy costly weapons and develop its nuclear program. We can achieve that through increased domestic drilling, energy conservation and an embrace of alternative energy.
In the short term, America must stay focused on rethinking its tactics to stabilize Iraq. Iraqi democracy as well as consensual governments in surrounding Afghanistan and nearby Lebanon are Tehran’s worst nightmares — because these are true revolutionary movements that might resonate with Iran’s own unhappy youth.
To deal with Iran, America should smile, lower the rhetoric, keep our powder dry — and maintain our distance.