Don’t confuse Iran with Cambodia

Posted: Jan 31, 2007 3:34 PM
Don’t confuse Iran with Cambodia

The danger from Saddam Hussein has long since passed and the possibility that Iraq will ever develop WMDs is long gone. The new focus of the war on terror has to be North Korea and Iran. The Iranian regime stands at the center of global terrorism and its nuclear ambitions must send a chill down our collective spine.

Bush is increasingly standing up to Iran with almost daily warnings and the deployment of a second carrier task force nearby. But the president’s focus has been on Iranian involvement in Iraq and on its policy of shipping weapons, agents, provocateurs and possibly combatants into the war zone to harass and kill Americans. This emphasis is understandable given the dangers that face our troops in Iraq. Anything Bush can do to lessen the threats they face must be done.

But there is a risk that our struggle against Iran will come to be seen by the American people as a subset of the war in Iraq, a bit like Cambodia was a subset of the War in Vietnam. If challenging Iran comes to symbolize an escalation of the war in Iraq, it will soon lose public support and become tainted with the tar which smears our work in Iraq.

But to characterize Iran as part of our war in Iraq is like calling Russia part of our battle against Serbia in the ’90s. Certainly, Iran is trying to exercise massive influence in Iraq and the toppling of the Sunni regime in Baghdad doubtless opened the door for its attempt. But the danger Iran poses goes far beyond its threat to our troops in Iraq.

The world did not listen when Hitler wrote Mein Kampf and threatened extermination of the Jewish race. It must listen now when Iranian leaders like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad threaten to “wipe Israel off the map.” We should have no doubt that Iran would use the bomb against Israel and, when its technology permits, against the United States.

Deterrence won’t work. You cannot deter a suicide bomber by threatening to kill him. The nihilistic and apocalyptic worldview echoed in Tehran does not make retaliation a serious deterrent.

Instead, Bush should continue and accelerate his efforts to destroy Iran’s economy by cutting off investments to companies that invest there. Frank Gaffney’s campaign says that 87 state-administered pension funds in the United States have invested $188 billion in one of 500 publicly traded companies that “partner with terrorist-sponsoring states.” These 500 companies among them “have $73 billion invested in Iran, Syria, Libya, and North Korea.” (This 2004 data includes investments in Saddam’s Iraq).

Among these companies are: Alcatal SA, BNP Paribas, Hyundai, Linden Petroleum, Oil and Natural Gas Corp, Siemens AG, Statoil ASA, Stolt Nielsen, Technip Coflexip, and Total SA. UBS, which was once on the list, has divested itself of all such investments.

The economic weakness of Iran makes disinvestment its Achilles’ heel. With its non-oil and gas economy falling apart and its oil exports dropping while domestic demand is rising, Tehran already totters atop a mountain of popular discontent, as evidenced by the trouncing the establishment took in the local elections a few weeks ago.

So President Bush should mobilize the American people to disinvest in Iran and other terrorist states. He should ratchet up his efforts to persuade states and unions to adopt terror-free investment policies and urge Wall Street mutual funds to do likewise. No public action is required, but massive private action, catalyzed by Bush, can have a huge effect.

But he must not sell this effort as part of winning in Iraq. To do so would be to diminish badly needed public backing for the efforts against Iran and help Tehran in the long run.