There is a gaping hole in the international position on Iran, and Gambia, of all countries, has pointed it out. After the presidents of the two countries exchanged visits, Gambia is openly wondering why the world is upset about Iran building a bomb. The Gambians are asking, so long as other countries are allowed to have these weapons, and they are not illegal, why shouldn't Iran join the club?
While the official answer is that Iran has violated its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty obligations, this still dodges the question. Why does the NPT lock in existing nuclear powers, ignore countries that choose not to sign (like Israel), and then treat Iran as an outlaw?
There is no good legal answer to this, but there is a good practical one: because Iran is an outlaw state. But then the astute Gambians might ask another question: who determined that Iran has violated international law? Where is it written that Iran is a rogue state, aside from its pursuit of nuclear weapons?
With this, the Gambians will have stumbled onto a strange paradox. Iran is in trouble for its nuclear program, but not for the behavior that makes its nuclear program unacceptable - its rampant international aggression.
Sure, Iran has for years topped the US State Department's list of states that support terrorism. President George Bush recently noted that Iran's client, Hizbullah, has killed more Americans than any group except al-Qaida. Iranian officials were recently caught red-handed in Iraq with plans for planting explosives. Hizbullah has been paying Palestinians to shoot missiles at Sderot. And so on.
EVERYONE KNOWS these things. But what steps has the international community taken against Iran as a terror state? Why has no nation demanded that the UN Security Council investigate Iranian support for terrorism and aggression?
One might argue that such an investigation would be toothless. But notice the lengths that Syria is going to escape from the UN investigation launched into the Hariri and Gemayel assassinations. Many observers estimate that Hizbullah is working to topple the Lebanese government at Syria's behest and for this purpose.
Though pariah states pretend they don't care about being isolated, they obviously do. Why else would Iranian President Ahmadinejad travel to South America and Africa looking for leaders who will receive him? Why would the Iranian New Agency trumpet its extensive trade with European nations?
Why would Sunday's front page of Iran Daily, published in Teheran, lead with the headline, "Kerry: US A Sort of International Pariah," and a picture of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, noting that she "supports the transfer of responsibility to Iraqi forces"?
Teheran is clearly at pains to show that it is George Bush, not Iran, who is isolated. This is why the recent UN resolution condemning Holocaust denial, which did not mention Iran by name, but to which Iran was the only nation to voice an objection, was a step in the right direction.
But it is not nearly enough.
Iran is legally vulnerable on three fronts, in addition to the existing sanctions track aimed at its nuclear program. First, Iran is in violation of the Genocide Convention's prohibition of incitement to genocide. Article III of that treaty establishes such incitement as a "punishable offense." Second, the Iranian regime rampantly violates human rights. According to Amnesty International, Iran executed eight children in 2005, and was the only country that executed children in that year. In May 2006, a 17-year-old boy was executed for allegedly engaging in homosexual acts. Tens of thousands of political prisoners languish in Iran's jails.
Iranian human rights lawyer Lila Mazhery charges that Iran "has established a system of legalized prostitution ... [in which] men are free to enter into as many temporary 'marriages' as they desire... only to use the women and children that they 'marry' as sexual objects and slaves. ... This legalized system of slavery and oppression has led to a growing sex-trafficking industry that is partially operated by government officials and mullahs themselves."
Third, Iran has become a factory for international aggression. The mullahs are sowing mayhem in Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza and Afghanistan, and stoking attacks against Israel. If the assassination of a former Lebanese prime minister is worthy of a massive UN investigation, why not Iran's violent efforts to destabilize an entire region?
It would be natural for Iran to take the absence of such an investigation, let alone sanctions that such wholesale aggression should trigger, as a measure of Western weakness in general, and American isolation in particular.
AMERICAN SOLDIERS are dying almost daily at the hands of Iranian-supported militias. Israel is under constant attack by Iranian-supported terrorists. Yet neither nation has had the temerity to demand that the UN Security Council act against such aggression, presumably because they think they don't have the votes.
So who is isolated: the West or Iran?
Western diplomats presumably estimate they are hiding the true balance of diplomatic forces by avoiding the issue. But who are they kidding? Like Stalin's famous dismissal of the pope's lack of divisions, why should Iran take Western opposition to terrorism seriously if the US and others are unable to employ the diplomatic playing field that Western nations supposedly control? The US and Europe are acting like a police chief who has lost control of most of his city to organized crime and is pretending that confrontation can be avoided and law and order maintained. But terrorism, like crime, does not disappear when one pretends it has - it increases.
The West cannot afford to forfeit the Security Council to Iran's protectors. Democracies must join together to finger and sanction terror states even if it means forcing a Russian or Chinese veto. Even if Iran is defeated by going around the Security Council, there will ultimately be more Irans if free nations are unable to rally the international system to punish rogue states.
- Editorial Page Editor Saul Singer is author of the book, Confronting Jihad: Israel's Struggle & the World After 9/11