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This week Iran presented the US with the ultimate challenge and Washington must now make a decision. Is it fighting to win?
Since the September 11 jihadist attacks on the US mainland, President George W. Bush has stated repeatedly that the greatest threat to global security is the specter of rogue regimes and terror groups acquiring weapons of mass destruction. At his January 2002 State of the Union address, the president declared that the regimes of Iran, North Korea and Iraq comprised an axis of evil and a central goal - indeed the most crucial goal - of the US-led war was to prevent them from acquiring or maintaining arsenals of weapons of mass destruction.
If we accept Bush's definition of the aims of the war, then five years on, the inescapable conclusion is that the US and its allies, such as they are, are losing this war and losing it badly. Iraq's arsenal of weapons of mass destruction was not captured by US forces who heroically brought down Saddam Hussein's regime three years ago this week. It vanished before they arrived.
Israeli intelligence reported before the US-led invasion that starting in late summer 2002 Saddam's WMD arsenal was shipped by truck convoy to Syria. Recently, documents seized from Iraq after the fall of the regime were released to the public. Those documents revealed that under the direct command of former Russian prime minister and KGB boss Yevgeny Primakov, Russian Spetnaz forces oversaw the transfer of Iraq's WMD to Syria ahead of the US-led invasion. These reports have been corroborated by Saddam's Air Vice Marshall General Georges Sada.
So rather than being destroyed or secured, Saddam's WMD arsenal was simply moved from one rogue regime with intimate ties to terror organizations to another rogue regime with intimate ties to terror organizations.
As for North Korea, 10 months after Bush labeled the Stalinist regime in Pyongyang a member of the axis of evil, North Korea announced that it had systematically breached its 1994 agreement with the US not to develop a nuclear arsenal and had harvested plutonium from some 8,000 spent fuel rods at its Russian-built Yangbon reactor. Immediately after the North Koreans admitted their duplicity, the US acknowledged that China, Russia and Pakistan had all actively assisted North Korea in developing its nuclear weapons program behind America's back.
So Bush was being played for a fool. A year after the September 11 attacks, America learned that neither its enemies nor its purported allies took Washington's war goals seriously. North Korea thumbed its nose at Bush, and Pakistan, China and Russia willfully betrayed him.
The Bush administration reacted to the ruin of its Asian strategy by pretending that it hadn't failed. Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice and other top administration officials lauded Pakistan for its commitment to preventing North Korea from acquiring nuclear capabilities even as it became public knowledge that Islamabad had transferred centrifuges for uranium enrichment to the North Koreans. They said that China and Russia both knew that a nuclear-armed North Korea was inimical to their national interests and to global security even as neither Beijing nor Moscow expressed the slightest regret for their assistance to North Korea's nuclear program and gave no pledge to cease that assistance.
The Bush administration continued to negotiate with the North Koreans through the six-party framework with South Korea, Japan, China and Russia with the aim of convincing North Korea to stop developing nuclear weapons. Last February, this continued attempt to maintain a failed policy was exposed in all its preposterousness when North Korea announced that it had nuclear weapons. Again the US refused to acknowledge that its policy was a failure.
Last September, the US agreed to a South Korean proposal to offer North Korea aid and security guarantees in exchange for a commitment by Pyongyang to turn back the clock on its nuclear program. Pyongyang responded in November by cutting off all talks in the six-party forum.
This week, the US tried again to engage North Korea at a symposium in Tokyo. Pyongyang reacted by threatening America with destruction. North Korea's Defense Minister Kim Il Chol said last Saturday that in the event of a US strike on the country, North Korea, "will mobilize its political-ideological might and military potentials built up generation after generation and mercilessly wipe out the enemies and thus viciously conclude the stand-off with the US."
The US chief negotiator, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, responded to Pyongyang's call to obliterate America by saying, "We've got the right format, the right deal on the table - the September deal - so we have to be a little patient and realize that this is the right approach."
But the right approach to what? It may be the right approach for allowing North Korea to humiliate the US while expanding its nuclear arsenal and selling missile technology to Iran, Egypt, Syria, Libya, Saudi Arabia and anyone else who wants it. It is the right approach for placing Washington at the mercy of Beijing, which Washington believes is the only country capable of forcing North Korea to improve its behavior. It is also the right approach for ensuring that Russia, China and Pakistan believe that they can betray the trust of the US whenever it suits their purposes. It is the right approach to take, that is, if the US wishes to fail in its mission of preventing rogue regimes from acquiring and maintaining weapons of mass destruction.
It is not, however the right approach for ending North Korea's nuclear adventure. It is not the right approach for forcing North Korea to stop selling ballistic missiles to anyone who wants them. And it is not the right approach for destroying Pyongyang's ability to threaten the US and its allies with nuclear attack.
North Korea is a frightful place. It is led by a fanatical regime that carries out a systematic, monstrous genocide of its own people. It is fully capable of acting with deliberate malice and devastating depravity on an international level.
But it is alone. It has no vital natural resources that make it an attractive trading partner to states throughout the world. It does not lead, nor does it purport to lead a global movement of Stalinist millenarianism.
It is not like Iran.
IRAN ANNOUNCED this week that it is a member of the nuclear club. Over the past five years this new member of the nuclear club has become the undisputed leader of the global jihad. It controls Hizbullah and Islamic Jihad. It has open and warm ties with al-Qaida. It has transformed Hamas and Fatah into its clients. Syria has become its vassal. It controls the majority of Iraq's Shi'ite politicians and militias. It is feared by Saudi Arabia and Egypt. It is respected and revered by European Muslims.
With the largest proven reserves of natural gas in the world and huge deposits of crude oil, Teheran is flushed with oil and gas profits and has recently signed multi-billion dollar oil and gas deals with China. It has close business relations with Europe and Russia. It is a member of OPEC. And it is led by men who believe that they are living in a messianic age which demands millenarian behavior on the road to divine victory on earth.
Iran, the single greatest enemy of the US and everything it stands for, which has repeatedly stated its goal of destroying America and erasing Israel from the map of the world, is now on the verge of acquiring a nuclear arsenal. It already has delivery systems capable of launching nuclear strikes against Israel and most of Western Europe. Through its own Revolutionary Guards units, Hizbullah and its other terror clients, it has been actively warring against the US for 27 years.
Iran made its fastest leaps towards nuclear capabilities since the September 11 attacks. When in late 2002 Iran's secret nuclear facilities in Natanz, Arak and Isfahan were revealed to the world, the US reacted not by moving to destroy this emerging threat which it acknowledged to be the greatest threat to its own national security and to the security of the world. It reacted by backing Britain, Germany and France's attempts to appease the mullahs into giving up their nuclear weapons program.
The Europeans' diplomacy never had any chance of ending the Iranian program. Iran did not embark on it nuclear weapons program in order to be bought off but in order to have a nuclear arsenal. Yet Washington complimented the Europeans' worthless summitry by clearly signaling that Iran had no reason to worry about US military intervention. This it did by studiously ignoring the fact that Iran was actively warring against US forces in Iraq and flooding Iraq with its agents, spies and weapons.
To date, the US's official policy for contending with Iran is to seek redress in the UN Security Council. That is, the US has placed the responsibility for meeting what it has itself admitted is the greatest threat to global security in the hands of nations that do not share its assessment of Iran. By seeking Security Council action on Iran, the US has delegated the power for contending with the Iranian nuclear threat to China and Russia which have both assisted Iran in developing its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
Like its policy towards North Korea, the US's policy towards Iran serves not to thwart Teheran's nuclear aspirations but to facilitate them. It serves not to expand America's options for contending with this grave and gathering threat to its national security and global interests, but to limit them.
After the September 11 attacks, George W. Bush was revered by Americans and lovers of liberty around the world. His soaring rhetoric and stated determination to fight for all that is good and sacred in this world won the hearts of millions and instilled in them the hope that the great battle for civilization had been joined by a force capable of defending it.
America is the greatest nation on Earth and it does have the ability to defend the world against regimes like Iran and its allies. It can prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. It can take those weapons out of North Korea's hands. It can bring Damascus to its knees and force it to cough up Iraq's arsenal of pathogens. And no, military might is not the only way for it to accomplish these tasks.
But America cannot, and it will not accomplish any of these goals if it continues to abide by strategies and frameworks that serve only to strengthen its enemies and permit its "allies" to behave perfidiously. It cannot and will not defend the world from evil, demonic regimes like Iran's if it continues to allow the likes of the EU, Russia, Egypt and China to undercut its will at every turn.
This week Teheran threw down the gauntlet. The greatest battle of this war - the battle to prevent the world's most dangerous regime from attaining the most dangerous weapons known to man - has begun. The moment has arrived for President George W. Bush to make clear if he is, in the final analysis, the leader of the free world or its undertaker.