Interesting Times: Breaking the spell of global fatalism

For all its bluster against the West, the Iranian regime does not want to be isolated.

saul singer 88 (photo credit: )
saul singer 88
(photo credit: )
Just as Iran's mullahs have been anxiously hoping, an air of fatalism has arisen around their quest for the Bomb. Amitai Etzioni reports that he recently heard a high-ranking adviser to a leading presidential candidate say in a closed forum: "We just have to get used to a nuclear Iran." Part of this conventional wisdom is that neither sanctions nor perhaps even military action will be sufficient to stop Iran's nuke program. This rather unthinking consensus is mistaken about the potential effectiveness of tough sanctions, not to mention a military strike on a few key Iranian nuclear facilities, regardless of how many dozens exist. Iran imports 40 percent of its refined oil and, as House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Howard Berman told AIPAC this week, more than half of Iran's trade is with Europe, Japan and Australia. Iran is extremely vulnerable to economic sanctions imposed by democratic countries, even if China and Russia do not completely go along. But the greatest failure of imagination does not concern the sanctions that are most often discussed but the refusal to impose seemingly "soft" sanctions that are critical to breaking the spell of global fatalism. This week President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said, "You should know that the criminal and terrorist Zionist regime which has 60 years of plundering, aggression and crimes in its file has reached the end of its work and will soon disappear off the geographical scene." A White House spokeswoman responded by saying that such rhetoric would "further isolate the Iranian people," but that "we'll let him go on and be bombastic if he wants and ignore him." AHMADINEJAD may be a buffoon, but this does not detract one iota from the criminality of his actions. The Genocide Convention stipulates that incitement to genocide - which is what calls to wipe an entire country off the map are - is a "punishable crime." Countries like the US, Israel and Germany are signatories to the Genocide Convention. Why are these governments not seeking Ahmadinejad's indictment? To some, throwing a piece of paper at a regime that is already shrugging off UN sanctions might seem ridiculous. What they don't realize is that the West possesses something that countries like China and Russia do not - the keys to international legitimacy. For all its bluster against the West, the Iranian regime is more concerned about true international isolation than it is about economic sanctions or perhaps even military attack. Why, for example, is Ahmadinejad showing up at a meeting of the FAO in Italy? Because he wants to rub the West's nose in the fact that he is still not persona non grata despite his support for terrorism, genocidal incitement and defiance of the entire international community. In 2000 the EU imposed sanctions, including a break in all diplomatic contacts, with Austria after the election of Joerg Haider. In 2002, 14 out of 15 EU nations imposed a travel ban on Belarus's President Alexander Lukashenko and seven of his ministers because of his country's poor human rights record. The EU currently has a travel ban against Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, though it has a loophole that is allowing him to attend the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) conference in Rome. But Ahmadinejad is not even under such a leaky EU ban. The White House and Europe are badly mistaken in their strategy of "ignoring" Ahmadinejad's taunts. Every time he threatens the US and Israel and gets away with it he is demonstrating his regime's strength and the West's weakness. That is exactly why he keeps repeating such seemingly reckless statements. Less than 1% of Europe's trade is with Iran, while 40% of Iran's trade - including difficult-to-replace spare parts for sophisticated (much of it German) equipment - is with Europe. A total trade ban, therefore, would have negligible economic impact on Europe, while imposing a steep price on Iran. But diplomatic sanctions cost even less - nothing. What is stopping Germany from breaking diplomatic relations with a country that openly denies the Holocaust and is openly calling and preparing for a new one? Australia has already called for prosecuting Iran's leader under the Genocide Convention. Why has Germany, along with all other democracies, not taken such a basic step? THE JEWISH world and Israel are not helpless here. Two actions are urgent and beg to be taken: (1) Israel should help organize a coalition of states seeking Ahmadinejad's indictment, breaking or downgrading of diplomatic relations and imposing a total travel ban against Iranian leaders; and (2) NGOs should organize protests against Germany's Siemens Corporation, which refuses to take even the steps that the Deutschebank has taken to reduce its commerce with Iran. We do not know what action will in the end be necessary to stop Iran, though there is still hope that it need not be military. What we do know is that the first step is to puncture the sense of inevitability that has surrounded Iran's nuclear program and replace it with the opposite sense that Iran ultimately will be stopped. It is precisely such "soft" measures, aimed squarely at the regime's international legitimacy, that can demonstrate Western determination rather than resignation and paralysis. President George W. Bush, given the coming US stint as president of the UN Security Council, is in a pivotal position to launch such measures, including not only enforcement of the Genocide Convention, but the launching of a UN investigation into Iranian support for terrorism and a public White House meeting with prominent Iranian dissidents. So long as Iran's "bombast" is "ignored," the message sent is clear: The West has been intimidated into letting a two-bit power run roughshod over its most sacred values. The mullahs know that so long as such intimidation continues, they are safe. The significance of such "soft" measures is less in their physical impact than the signal that they send: We will not be intimidated, and we will win. [email protected]