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(photo credit: AP)
The NATO summit in Latvia this week was quickly overshadowed by President George Bush's meetings in Jordan on the future of his embattled policy on Iraq. It is worth noting, however, what Bush said in Riga, and the growing contrast between words and actions on what should be the most burning issue of the moment: the threat from Iran.
"Our enemy follows a hateful ideology that rejects fundamental freedoms," Bush declared. "Their goal is to overthrow governments and to impose their totalitarian rule on millions. ... The war on terror we fight today is more than a military conflict; it is the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century. And in this struggle, we can accept nothing less than victory for our children and our grandchildren."
We could not agree more. And Bush did not hesitate to become more specific, noting the assassination of Pierre Gemayel in Lebanon, the smuggling of Iranian weapons through Syria to Hizbullah, and Iran itself, where "a reactionary regime subjugates its proud people, arrests free trade union leaders, and uses Iran's resources to fund the spread of terror and pursue nuclear weapons."
Finally, Bush explained how all this could be just a taste of the future. "Armed with nuclear weapons, [Iran's leaders] could blackmail the free world, spread their ideologies of hate, and raise a mortal threat to Europe, America, and the entire civilized world. If we allow the extremists to do this, then 50 years from now history will look back on our time with unforgiving clarity, and demand to know why we did not act."
It is hard to imagine a much clearer statement of the stakes facing the West at this moment. Yet Bush did not say what actions the world would regret not taking. The word "sanctions," let alone any hint of military action, appears nowhere in his Riga speech.
On Wednesday, the day after Bush's speech, the New York Times headline ran, "Iran Resolution, Still Not Final, Drops Mention of Sanctions." Other reports indicate that European countries have acceded to Russia's demand to drop all Security Council sanctions that would block its support for Iran's Bushehr reactor, which when completed could produce enough plutonium for 60 nuclear bombs.
The August deadline for Iran to comply with the Security Council's demands has long passed. Yet now it looks like whatever sanctions belatedly emerge will not even fully apply to Iran's nuclear program, which obviously should be the first target of such measures.
Even according to Europe's carrot-based approach, support for civilian nuclear power was supposed to be linked to verifiably abandoning programs that could be used to build nuclear weapons. Why should Iran abandon such activities if it can have its cake and eat it too? If the US ends up supporting such sanctions, the White House will no doubt argue that it is an important first step. But the world will read such a pathetic result as the exact opposite: proof that the Russian and Chinese vetoes will prevent effective sanctions from being imposed on Teheran.
There is a huge gap between Bush's description of the problem and US actions. If the world is facing a "mortal threat" from Iran, why does the US seem to be so actively contemplating asking Iran to help with Iraq? It is ironic that the Bush speech in Riga was made to NATO leaders. NATO, after all, is supposed to be a body of collective self-defense, a forum for action - as in the case of the joint forces now operating in Afghanistan that Bush praised. NATO could also be a forum for imposing sanctions, backed by the threat of military action.
Russian and Chinese foot-dragging cannot be allowed to become an excuse for collective Western suicide. In Riga, Bush came over like a fire chief sounding the alarm who, instead of organizing his trucks to put out the fire, pens a letter "to whom it may concern." The US needs to lead the world in confronting Iran. This means spelling out what economic, diplomatic, and if necessary, military measures must be taken to do so. If Bush does not, the historic indictment of which he speaks will be of his own term of office, during which a global threat which could have been stopped was allowed to reach its most critical stage.
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