Lately, when reading the news about Iran, I have been feeling the same vibes that resonated in the months leading up to the 2003 Iraq War. The scenario is familiar: European doves clashing with American hawks about how to stop the spread of illegal weapons in the Middle East. Over the last few months, the EU-led negotiations aimed at halting the rapidly-progressing Iranian nuclear program have stalled, and just recently the United States put pressure on Brussels to take a firmer stance. All the while, the Iranians have stood firm and refused to dismantle their nuclear facilities. Yet the slowness of the Europeans and Iranians in coming to a consensus is less the result of Iranian obstinacy than it is of Europe’s failure at persuasion.
The mixed messages emanating from the European leaders makes it more difficult to achieve positive results. In the midst of this dangerous diplomatic game, these confusing signals cause the Iranians not to defect but to defy. While representatives of Britain, France, and Germany sit at the negotiating table and offer economic concessions in return for Iranian cooperation, the leaders of these same states are publicly ruling out the use of any force to back up their positions. This flimsiness emboldens Iran, whose leaders know that the European negotiators can make only empty threats, to push forward with its nuclear program while the talks drag on endlessly.
Though I know that most people in this community really, really don’t want to hear what I am about to say, I feel compelled to say it. The time for military action is fast approaching, and the United States must step in and play the “bad cop” as Europe’s partner in the negotiations. The Bush administration has so far taken a back seat and allowed Brussels to direct the talks completely, but the Europeans have effectively surrendered their negotiating position by refusing to bluff at all. It is a blessing that democracy has brought peace to a continent so long torn apart by conflicts, but that same democratic fervor in Europe has weakened its foreign policy. Pacifists in the EU have made it impossible for their states to threaten military action of any kind. Even if Chirac, Blair, and Schroder had agreed from the outset that no military action would be taken on their parteven if Iran refused to negotiateit would still be helpful if they could employ the threat of force. Bluffing, as is the case in cards, is a critical element of international relations; in this case Europe called its own bluff in the first round.
As I mentioned, though, there is still a way to win the game, even on European terms. While Iran is unwilling to forgo its nuclear program in return for Brussels’s economic package now, it may wish to do so should the United States enter the talks as an aggressive counterweight to Europe. At a meeting of the highest level, when Dominique de Villepin, Jack Straw, and Joschka Fischer sit down across the table from Kamal Kharrazi and tell him to shut down his state’s reactors “or else,” Condoleezza Rice should burst in with battle plans in hand, ready to back up her colleagues. It is clear that the EU cannot handle Iran on its own; allowing the talks to go on as they are only serves to buy time for Iran to complete a nuclear bomb. If the United States steps in now and acts with bellicosity reminiscent of early 2003, there is a chance that Tehran may come to believe that joining the World Trade Organization and selling oil to Europeans is more vital to its interests than building a heavy-water plant.
The reasons for mistrusting Iran are hardly limited to its surreptitious nuclear program. For years it has been the leading state sponsor of terrorist groupsorganizations that have caused the deaths of many American, Israeli, and European civilians. When I say “sponsor” I don’t mean simply moral encouragement. According to Steven R. Perles, a Washington attorney specializing in anti-terror class action law suits, Iran provides millions of dollars in financing to Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad each year. Iranian intelligence agents also train their members and provide on-the-ground logistical support for terror operations. The percentage of terrorist activity conducted worldwide that originates from Tehran is staggering; if Osama bin-Laden’s Al-Qaeda organization were compared to Coca-Cola, the Ayatollah’s Iran would be Pepsi.
The world does not want any more violence, but the threat of violence itself can be a powerful tool in the fight for global peace. If Iran still refuses to back down in the face of American military action, then conducting airstrikes may be the price the free world must pay to prevent nuclear weapons from falling into the hands of a repressive oligarchy. One must remember that Harry Truman, sullen and guilt-ridden, announced to the world that he had taken the controversial and difficult condition to use atomic weapons to end a world war. Iran’s leaders have declared with pride that as soon as they develop nuclear weapons they will launch them without a second thought against Iran’s democratic enemies. This is the challenge faced by the West today. Failure to stop Iran now will lead to a dangerous destabilization of the entire region. Unless the United States is willing to step up and risk offensive air strikes now, a defensive war may not be a choice later.