Mourning Bhutto, and heeding the lesson

The world is facing a threat of unparalleled barbarity that will stop at nothing unless it is thwarted.

Bhutto 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Bhutto 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
The assassination of Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto illustrates the fragility of the current international order in the face of the radical Islamist threat. Pakistan is an Islamic country with nuclear weapons and security services that contain many sympathizers with the Taliban and al-Qaida. It is hardly clear that the massive US investment in the Musharraf government as a bulwark against these same jihadi groups will be sustainable. Bhutto was murdered by a suicide bomber who shot her before blowing himself up, killing some dozen of her supporters. This bombing followed two others in October from which Bhutto escaped unharmed, while over 100 innocent Pakistanis were killed. Israelis, of course, are familiar with the preferred jihadi weapon, the suicide bomber. But the terrorism in Pakistan is a reminder that no country is immune from such barbarism - not even countries where the bombers and all the victims are Muslims. Pakistan, moreover, is thought of as a Western ally. Imagine a country were the jihadis are in charge and openly extol the virtues of murder through "martyrdom" and one has described neighboring Iran. It is in this context that the eerie complacency characterizing the global approach to the Iranian threat is difficult to understand. This complacency can be most dramatically seen in the widespread disinterest in Moscow's growing support for Teheran. The ink had barely dried on the US National Intelligence Estimate before Russia took two major steps in support of Teheran's terrorist regime: delivering fuel to the Bushehr reactor and reportedly committing to provide an even more sophisticated defense system for Iran's nuclear facilities. As a New York Times editorial put it, since the NIE seemed to deny the existence of an Iranian race to the bomb, "all the restraints are off" the Moscow-Teheran relationship. According to the Guardian, a Russian defense expert acknowledged that the S-300 missile system would significantly enhance Iran's ability to shoot down aircraft as well as cruise and ballistic missiles. "It's a formidable system. It really gives a new dimension to Iran's antiaircraft defences," the unnamed defense expert said. "It's much better than the US system. It has good radar. It can shoot down low-flying cruise missiles, though with some difficulty." In Crawford, Texas, a White House spokesman responded, "We have ongoing concerns about the prospective sale of such weapons to Iran and other countries of concern." In other words, the dog barks and train moves on. As distressing as Russia's actions are, perhaps even more alarming is the lack of interest anyone seems to have in doing something about them. Our own prime minister seems busier hoping that the Annapolis process is going somewhere, while issuing assurances that if America proves unable to thwart the Iranian threat, Israel is able to take care of itself. Step by step, the world is becoming inured to the idea that Iran is going nuclear and no one will do anything about it. The sanctions campaign that was being pursued by the US until the release of the NIE ostensibly continues, but most did not believe that it would succeed even before the US itself seemed to strip the urgency away from it, and now the prospect of sanctions forcing Iran to back down seems less likely than ever. The NIE, regardless of its extensive flaws and contradictions, effectively takes the US military option off the table. If sanctions collapse as well, this leaves only two near-term options: a nuclear Iran or a military strike by Israel. With these extremely unpalatable options as alternatives, why are sanctions being allowed to collapse? In his first State of the Union address after 9/11, President George W. Bush stated, "The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons." He repeated this pledge to the UN in 2003, and again to his fellow Americans in 2006. If any were needed, the Bhutto assassination is a reminder that the world is facing a threat of unparalleled barbarity that will stop at nothing unless it is thwarted.