Burning Issues brings our best opinion writers to one podium, where they respond, in brief and in real time, to a question about one of the hottest news topics on the agenda. Our aim is also to get you, our readers, involved, by sharing your opinions with the JPost community, or if you wish, by responding to any specific posting. A link to the writer's most recent column appears at the end of each posting.
Question #1: Should the Pope have apologized?
After Bush and Ahmadinejad faced off at a distance at the UN General Assembly in New York, presenting their case to the world, can a winner be declared midway through this nuclear row?
As long as Ahmadinejad is still free to develop Iran's nuclear weapons capacity, there's no question that he is currently the winner in his stand-off with Bush and the rest of the Western World.
And as long as a leader that publicly doubts the Holocaust and threatens destruction on another nation, can use the forum of the UN General Assembly as a bully pulpit to the rest of the world, there's no question, unfortunately, that this week was a win-win for the Iranian president.
Bush spoke strongly at the UN, especially in his direct address to the Iranian people. But the major problem with his overall Middle East policy has been the gap between his inspiring rhetoric and his actions on the ground. His failure to commit enough US troops to post-war Iraq, and to really engage in serious nation-building there, has severely hindered the declared effort of his administration to democratize the Arab world. The setbacks in Iraq have also undermined the desire in the US and Europe to take military action against the Iranian nuclear program, if diplomacy fails.
It's certainly not too late though, before he leaves office, for Bush to score some kind of victory over the Iranian leader and at least delay his nuclear ambitions. But speeches at the UN are not how he's going to achieve that, even diplomatically. Score this round, alas, to Ahmadinejad.
Snap Judgment: An inconvenient and untimely death
It is unlikely that either Bush or Ahmadjinejad will come out as a winner for now. What is important is that good will prevails to prevent the idea of a winner and loser but rather to find a way to manage this crisis not only in Iran but also regarding Israel who unlike Iran has refused to sign any treaty that would allow inspection of its nuclear facilities.
Iran's president has insisted that the nuclear ambition of his country is for civilian purposes. This might or might not be true. But in all cases, we need uniformity in dealing with the nuclear issue so as not to have three standards one for Iran's immediate neighbors of Pakistan, India one for Israel and another for Iran. After the disproportionate use of arms that Israel recently displayed in Lebanon, according to international human rights agencies, one should worry about Israel and not just Iran being tempted to do the unacceptable.
Wanted - leaders who tell it like it is
Reaching out positively to moderate Moslems, President Bush warned the UN of the global threat of Islamic fundamentalism. The world's leading Holocaust denier was given central stage to justify his nuclear involvement and accuse the UN of being dominated by a US Israel cabal.
If a "winner" is to be determined by the support received from the tyrants and appeasers who dominate the UN General Assembly, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would probably have received a standing ovation even before he made his presentation.
Ultimately the real "winner" in this bitter struggle will be determined not by words but by pressure or force!
President Bush is now at his lowest level because of disenchantment with his Iraq policy. Does he still possess the courage and strength to stop the Iranian terrorists? The jury is out.
But one thing is clear. President Bush will be desperate to avoid leaving as his legacy to the world, a nuclear Iranian regime representing the greatest threat to civilization since the Nazis were defeated. We must all pray that the US President is empowered to succeed.
My Ten Commandments of political reform
Watching George Bush's speech at the United Nations was like listening to the air being let out of a balloon. What a disappointment!
It was hard to believe that this was the same President who has spoken out so strongly on Iran in recent months. Just three weeks ago, in Salt Lake City, Bush said "the world now faces a grave threat from the radical regime in Iran", and he put the mullahs on notice regarding their nuclear ambitions: "It is time for Iran to make a choice".
In the UN speech, however, there was none of that. While Bush did say that "Iran must abandon its nuclear-weapons ambitions," he didn't mention any punitive measures they would face if they fail to do so. Worse yet, he didn't even bother to explain just how dangerous a nuclear Iran would be to the future of the world. The speech was a wasted opportunity of immense proportions.
In advance of the UN session, there was a lot of excitement over the Bush vs. Ahmadinejad confrontation. But instead of a showdown, what we got was a letdown. Regrettably, in this week's battle at the UN, Iran was clearly the victor- by default.
A year of patriotism and prayer
So far Iran is winning. The measure of this is that there is a greater sense of inevitability that Iran will get the bomb than that the US will succeed in stopping Teheran. Also, the US has displayed no coherent strategy for stopping Iran, just declared its determination to do so.
Such a strategy is available and straight-forward, requiring the pursuit of draconian sanctions, backed by the threat of military force and massive support for the Iranian people (like the support Iran is giving terrorist militias in Lebanon, Gaza, Iraq, and Afghanistan). But it won't happen so long as the US lets Europe take the lead, rather than pushing Europe further and faster by demanding effectiveness, not just consensus.
Interesting Times: Reckless 'realists'
Though President George W. Bush's speech this week at the UN lacked any of the rhetorical flourish or groundbreaking argument of previous addresses - e.g., his post-9/11 address to a joint session of Congress, his address on preemption at West Point, and his June 22 2004 speech on the Middle East - the President was right to adopt a conciliatory tone, if only to deprive his many enemies of further ammunition. That tone, one hopes, was a political gesture, not a reflection of any loss of will on the part of the Bush administration to confront Iran over its nuclear program.
Nevertheless every day that passes without the imposition of sanctions, must be accounted a victory for the Iranian mullahs, for it brings them that much closer to a nuclear capability. French President Jacques Chirac, surely the most cynical politician on the planet, made clear how difficult it will be to obtain any sanctions regime through the UN After three years of the Europeans being horsed around by Iran in bilateral negotiations, and clear evidence of Iran 's enrichment activities, Chirac declared that it is still too early to consider sanctions.
At this rate, the French will still be demanding further negotiations when Iran loads its first nuclear warheads into the cones of intercontinental missiles. China and Russia constitute other major obstacles in the UN Security Council.
Ultimately, the United States will use its power within the international banking system to impose economic sanctions on Iran. The only question is whether that will be too little and too late.
Think Again: Self-scrutiny and the national will
Once again President Bush has eloquently articulated the case for reform of the Arab and Islamic world and for rejection of the tyrants and the violent religious extremists that dominate it. His message to the people of Iran asking them to reject leaders who deny them freedom and misuse their resources to fund terrorism and nuclear weapons gives him a rhetorical victory over Ahmadinejad even if few there will hear it.
Bush's rejection of the illusion of stability that is put forward by so-called "realists" who want to appease the Teheran regime is still praise-worthy despite the setbacks in Iraq and elsewhere. It is still a refreshing antidote to the stale defeatist cynicism put forward by the foreign policy establishment and the media who have neither the courage nor the wisdom to confront the Islamo-fascists.
Of course, were this speech made by a person other than a man who has become the bete noire of the media and the intellectuals, it would be widely applauded for its vision. As it is, it will likely be dismissed or ignored.
Ahmadinejad came across as the buffoon that he is. Those who cheer anyone that attacks America or Israel will applaud him. The United Nations and America's appeasement-minded allies may never embrace Bush, but in the long run, it is the president's vision and not Ahmadinejad's hate that must prevail.
View from America: The next catastrophe waiting
What happens at the United Nations has little importance. As time passes and the lack of international solidarity becomes ever-more evident, negotiations over Iran's nuclear program become increasingly irrelevant.
Put differently, the Iranian regime wins every day that goes by in which no operational steps are taken to prevent it from preparing, building, and weaponizing nuclear armaments. We are heading to a point where the only real question is whether George W. Bush (or, perhaps, his successor) permit or prevent the Iranians to acquire the bomb.
The pope & the Byzantine emperor
The UN General Assembly bash is always interesting political theater, and both actors put on a respectable performance. This was as close as Ahmadinejad will get to his dream of a direct debate and equal status with the American leader, although nothing new was said.
Ahmadinejad - whose aggressive speech last year gave him international recognition without serious penalties - was a bit more restrained this time and without lasting impact. His primary audience was at home, and speaking in Farsi, he pushed the nationalist rhetoric that the radical Islamic regime is using to offset the public resentment against the draconian measures used against opponents.
The absurd claims that Iran's nuclear program are somehow "peaceful" and legal are generally dismissed, even by naive Europeans, but may still have some cache in Iran. And the attack against the superpowers on the UN Security Council resonated in what remains of the non-aligned movement - Chavez's Venezuela, Cuba, Syria, etc. Nasser rode this horse from the mid-1950s through 1967, but after the humiliating war against Israel, the issue disappeared.
Ahmadinejad is unlikely to get more than some headlines out of this, and it will not prevent sanctions and, at some point, possible military action. And while he could not resist another round of Holocaust denial and demonization of Israel, this was a minor segment of his speech and toned down compared to previous versions.
In contrast, Bush's appearance in the UN is now a ritual, and the themes were unsurprising. He restated his unshakable faith in spreading democracy as the key to winning the war against terror, and the danger of nuclear weapons in the hands of Iranian extremists. Bush again attempted to reach out to the Iranian people, over the heads of their leaders, and with little chance of success. The false hope for renewed Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts and reviving the "road map" was mainly for European and Arab ears (mainly European and Jordanian) - part of the trade-off for support on Iranian sanctions. A predictable and mediocre performance, but one that will not hurt Bush and may add a few points to his abysmal poll results.
Ken Roth's blood libel