It seemed like a good idea at the time. The Bush administration would use the earthquake tragedy in Iran that killed at least 30,000 people not only as an opportunity to show the United States was eager to alleviate international tragedy but also as a diplomatic wedge. Some officials believed that, as humanitarian aid was provided, discussions might open that could lead to a new relationship between the two countries. President Bush stated the potential political benefits of the aid when he said, "What we're doing in Iran is we're showing the Iranian people that American people care, that we've got great compassion for human suffering."
The United States would follow up its international version of compassionate conservatism with a high-level diplomatic team, headed by Sen. (and former Red Cross President) Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.). There was talk of sending a member of the Bush family along in case further evidence was needed to persuade the Iranian dictatorship of our sincerity. It would have been the first public U.S. diplomatic effort in Iran since the 444-day hostage ordeal when Iranian "students" held 52 Americans, releasing them the day Ronald Reagan was inaugurated because they rightly concluded that if they didn't, Tehran might be turned into a parking lot. The one "diplomatic" effort since then involved trading "arms for hostages" in the mid-'80s.
Secretary of State Colin Powell expressed optimism about the latest diplomatic overture to Iran even before the Iranian government responded. He cited "encouraging" moves by the Islamic republic in recent months, which have included an agreement by Iranian leaders to allow "surprise" inspections of the country's nuclear energy program and diplomatic overtures to moderate Arab governments.
Iran's President, Mohammad Khatami, threw cold water on the U.S. wishful thinking when he said that while American aid to earthquake victims was welcome, it would not alter relations between his country and the United States. Iran understands the impossibility of making bargains with "the Great Satan." The U.S. government should take a similar view. Evil cannot be accommodated. It must be defeated.
In the 1980s, there were pleadings by the American left to decrease tensions with the Soviet Union. The proposal was for the Reagan administration to cease deploying missiles in Europe to counter a Soviet buildup and, instead, to unilaterally disarm in order to show Moscow we meant Russia no harm. At the time I said the strategy appeared to have been designed to make the Soviet army laugh themselves to death, but there would be enough of them left over to invade and subdue us.
Reagan understood that the "evil empire" of the 20th century could not be accommodated but had to be defeated. He was right, and his detractors were famously wrong.
While the Bush administration's provision of humanitarian aid to Iran is the right and moral thing to do - and might, in fact, further encourage young reformers in the country - the old and hard-line religious leadership still dominates. Iranian radio, controlled by the mullahs, continues to spew anti-American venom.
What might hasten "regime change" in Iran and elsewhere in the region is a proposal contained in a "manual for victory" written by Richard Perle, a Defense Department strategist and an architect in the war on terrorism, and David Frum, a former Bush speechwriter. Part of a new book, "An End to Evil: Strategies for Victory in the War on Terror," the document calls for regime change in Syria and Iran and a Cuba-style blockade of North Korea backed by planning for a preemptive strike on its nuclear sites. The manifesto also calls for Saudi Arabia and France to be treated not as allies but as rivals and possibly enemies.
The United States has two options. It can fail to follow through on its initial blow in Iraq, thus empowering and encouraging America's enemies everywhere, or it can deal a knockout blow to terrorism by finishing the job.
As we saw with the Soviet Union, resolve is often enough to achieve American objectives. As long as American diplomats think humanitarian aid and political niceties by people dressed in Western business clothes will lessen the threat against us, we will continue to be threatened.
It is to be hoped the administration knows these things. "Peace Through Strength" worked as more than a slogan against the Soviet Union. It will work again with members of the "axis of evil."