'We're running out of time to stop a nuclear Iran'

House Intel C'tee's Rogers to Post: Israel has the right to defend itself.

mike rogers 248.88 (photo credit: Kfir Bolotin)
mike rogers 248.88
(photo credit: Kfir Bolotin)
Michigan Congressman Mike Rogers, ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, is confident the US administration will stick to its September deadline for tougher sanctions on Iran if Teheran refuses to substantively engage the international community on its nuclear program. He thinks there is no other choice, since Iran is rapidly moving towards nuclear weapons capability. The evidence of Iran's nuclear weapons program is "overwhelming," says Rogers, whose committee oversees the work of some 16 US intelligence agencies and organizations. Rogers, a former FBI agent, spoke with The Jerusalem Post this week, on the sidelines of the 9th Annual International Institute of Counter-Terrorism (ICT) Conference at IDC Herzliya. The Jerusalem Post: Can America live with a nuclear Iran? Mike Rogers: "I think it is dangerous for people to find it acceptable that Iran will have a nuclear bomb. "You have an irrational leadership that somehow we would expect would play by rational international rules. You can't make that conclusion. They're willing to face sanctions and maybe even the death of their citizens to get the bomb. I don't know how any honest intellectual can look at those sets of facts and come to the conclusion that it's okay for Iran to have a [nuclear] bomb. "Secondly, it will set off a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia have already indicated their intentions if Iran gets a nuclear weapon. The Saudis are certainly not going to be on the weaker end of that [Sunni-Shi'ite] equation. Now you've got a whole set of new problems. "And because Iran gets a nuclear bomb does not mean they're going to stop their efforts on terrorism by proxies, which has worked for them through Hizbullah and Hamas. "And finally, look at the behavior of their mentors, the North Koreans. They are clearly proliferating nuclear technology to any willing buyer. "Iran has already shown that it is engaging US forces with deadly force in theatres it doesn't belong in. Give it a nuclear umbrella, and Iran will become much more brazen." Why is there this disconnect between the way America is going after al-Qaida and the way it approaches a state sponsor of terrorism like Iran? "We had a rough twenty years with terrorism, without fully realizing what we were dealing with. You have a look at the Khobar Towers attack, the USS Cole attack, the 1992 bombing of the World Trade Center where we got the blind Sheikh and said, 'That's it, we did it, we got the bad guy, put him in jail, it's over.' Unfortunately, a decade later we lost a few thousand citizens. We were slow in coming to the realization that al-Qaida and Islamic extremism are dangerous to the world, to America and our allies. "When we went into Iraq and Afghanistan - and I don't think there's a military that rivals the US military - we didn't think that the global jihad was going to engage [us] in those conflicts. What we have learned over time is that Iran is part of our problem. They were smuggling people and weapons and directly supplying and financing to groups that we know were there in both countries, trying to kill coalition and US soldiers. They were using, by proxy, those pipelines and those networks like they had been using Hizbullah and Hamas against Israel for a very long time. Our intelligence agencies knew about it, but now our policymakers are involved in that discussion [of Iran's involvement]." There's a sense in Israel that Iran is not near the top of President Obama's agenda. Where do you see the issue of Iran's nuclear drive fitting into the US agenda? "There are many policymakers, myself included, who hope that we float it [Iran] to the top of every policymaker's agenda. The most important element in the near term is to get every policymaker engaged in the notion that the clock is running, and that it is an absolute 'game changer' when Iran goes nuclear, because that is not a genie you could put back in the bottle. "Iran knows [the stakes], and that's why they're being so clever about how they get there. My concern is that once they get that nuclear umbrella, [then] - given their policy statements in the past, their very aggressive use of proxy terrorism - things are only going to get worse. "When you think of all the places that they're engaged, and they are around the world - that two-year window, or that 12-month window, or even a five-year window… Even [outgoing IAEA Chairman Mohammed] El Baradei will tell you that [Iran's nuclear] program is going ahead but it's not immediate. "Well here's the good news: We all agree now that they're trying to get a nuclear weapons program. "Would we risk that we might get to that two-year mark, or 18-month mark, without any serious sense of engagement with them on serious sanctions to try to halt or slow down their program? Or would we risk that we go five or six years and they get a nuclear bomb? That, to me, is what the debate needs to be about. "I think the US ought to step up to a very aggressive sanctions stance right now, because we're running out of time. Iran is very good about the dance, but my mother always told me that when you're dancing, somebody's going backwards. Unfortunately it is the international community and the US [that are going backwards]. We don't need a second dance." Where do you see Russia and China in this dance? "It is really not in their strategic interests [to block sanctions on Iran], but they're doing it. It is frustrating to us, and we scratch our heads trying to figure out why they're behaving like they are. "I think they can be important players, including in peace negotiations throughout the Middle East. If we could bring Russia into that equation they could be incredibly helpful to us on the sanctions issue. I think that if we can get Russia, we'll get China engaged. "Russia sees itself as a world player, and you don't go from the USSR, which was a very large empire, to where they are today, without some ill feelings. I think they want to re-engage again as world leaders. "We have a lot of issues of difference with Russia, and I think they'll use as many points as they can for negotiation. But they can also be involved with Iran's nuclear program in a way that I think everybody could find acceptable." How will a nuclear Iran affect America? "We have over 150,000 troops in Iraq and we're escalating in Afghanistan. Pakistan is always worrisome to us. Americans are very weary right now. Our economy is bad. We're mired down in other things. We said there were WMD in Iraq. We got there and there weren't any. Now we're saying Iran has a nuclear weapons program, and people are going, 'Are you sure? Are you really sure?' That's just something we're going to have to get over. "I think the intelligence here is overwhelming. The average American doesn't want any of it [more wars]. I think that the public is savvy enough to understand that a nuclear Iran doesn't get us less trouble, it gets us more trouble. Lots more trouble. "And that's what we're trying to convince the Russians. If they think that Chechnya is just a small problem for them now, wait until the radical Muslim community decides that they can get in there with relative impunity [under an Iranian nuclear umbrella] and do what damage they wish. "It spreads our problems worldwide. If Iran wants to control the movement of oil out of the Middle East, that will impact us too. You think the average American wants to pay $8 for a gallon of gasoline? [The price of gasoline in America now averages between $2 and $4 per gallon.] It has so many implications for the US and for the average American." Do you sense any desperation on the Israeli side, that they're determined to do what they think is necessary? "I think that Israel has the right to defend itself, given it's position in the world and the neighborhood it's in. It's probably the toughest neighborhood to be in. I think we can all agree that a nuclear Iran is dangerous for the world, but it's probably most immediately dangerous to the State of Israel. I think that most Americans believe that Israel has the right to defend itself. I think that speaks for itself." For more of Amir's articles and posts, visit his personal blog Forecast Highs