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"Bush is the last person on earth who needs to be reminded of what should be done to stop Iran. If there is one person I can trust, it's him. I trust his moral integrity, I trust his moral commitment and I trust his determination."
- Ehud Olmert, Washington Post interview, November 12
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert arrives in Washington as a leader with the dubious distinction of having lost even more popularity over his management of a war than has George Bush. Unfortunately, Olmert and Bush may be the last leaders on earth who are at all serious when they say that an Iranian bomb must be prevented at all costs. In fact, it is not clear that Bush himself can still be placed in this category.
Olmert's trust notwithstanding, is the Bush administration really committed to or capable of stopping Iran?
The question arises not just because Bush took "a thumping," as he put it, in the recent elections and lost both houses of Congress, but in relation to what he did in response: fire Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and nominate in his stead Robert Gates, a prominent figure in the "realist" school of foreign policy.
Gates's views regarding Iran, assuming they have not changed radically, are no mystery, since he coauthored a 2004 report with former Carter adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski on behalf of the Council on Foreign Relations. Titled "Iran: Time for a New Approach," the report concludes that the regime is "firmly in control" and therefore represents "the country's only authoritative interlocutors."
"Just as the US maintains a constructive relations with China... Washington should approach Iran with a readiness to explore areas of common interests, while continuing to contest objectionable policies," it continues.
The comparison with China, a nuclear power, is telling. While Gates and Brzezinski argue that the US should try to dissuade Iran from its nuclear path, the regime is also portrayed as a generally rational player that, with a bit of clever diplomacy, could be roped into to the wider fabric of the existing world order.
"Over the course of the past 25 years," the report assures, "Iran's foreign policy has moderated in significant and meaningful ways... [T]oday its government has largely abandoned its efforts to topple the region's existing political order..."
The report regards Iran's approach to the US and Israel as "decisive exceptions to the general trend toward moderation and realism in Iranian foreign policy" that may be "slowly abated by the erosion of Iran's revolutionary orthodoxies... and the increasing difficulty of international integration."
May we return to earth for a moment?
This is not "realism," it is fantasy of a sort such old foreign policy hands might be the first to denounce among left-wing critics. It is a false description of Iranian behavior, since Teheran is actively supporting terrorist militias in Iraq, Lebanon and Gaza, while also meddling heavily in Syria and Afghanistan. And it is naive, not because the Iranian regime is so fanatic as to be impervious to pressure, but because the "realists" propose that such moderation will come precisely when essential threats of punitive consequences have been lifted.
Bush himself has been the most ardent critic of such fuzzy thinking. It is Bush who has repeatedly ridiculed the "realist" view that a Middle East riddled with dictatorships represented stability. It is Bush who stated flatly that the US would "not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons."
Yet at precisely the time when his secretary of state seems to have adopted the notion that the US must stay in lockstep with Europe - which in turn is unwilling to overrule or circumvent Russia and China - rather than appointing someone who might countervail the current feckless approach, Bush nominated a Pentagon chief who can only be expected to reinforce a path of accommodation, not confrontation.
A realism worthy of the name would begin with this basic premise: The refusal to confront and punish aggressive tyrants will not result in their moderation but in the opposite - more terrorism, greater threats, and a less free and more unstable world. We hope that Bush does not need Olmert to remind him of this, and that our prime minister's confidence is better placed than meets the eye.