Sound the alarm

The campaign of sanctions against Iran has obvious limits, and those limits have been reached.

Iran Nuclear 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Iran Nuclear 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
"Diplomacy and sanctions have failed," says John Bolton, former top nonproliferation official at the State Department and ex-US ambassador to the UN. "We have to look at overthrowing the [Iranian] regime... or a last-resort use of force," he told The Jerusalem Post. Bolton's explanation for this critical situation is as straightforward as his description of it. "We lost four years to feckless European diplomacy and our options are very limited... The State Department has adopted the European view and other voices have been sidelined." Bolton reports that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is "overwhelmingly predominant on foreign policy." While still inside the Bush administration, he felt "we were watching Europe fiddling while Rome burned." And, he adds, "It's still fiddling." Bolton was hounded out of office by detractors in the US Congress, largely for his penchant for such frank talk. We do not know what President George W. Bush is thinking regarding what he might do about Iran during his remaining 19 months in office. But based on what anyone can see is happening, who can argue with Bolton's analysis? Indeed, this is what is most disturbing about Bolton's warning cry; he is not just an observer, but someone who was deep inside the decision-making system for many years. Now he is saying the emperor has no clothes. There is no unseen American strategy that is separate from Europe's defeatist one. There is only America following Europe to failure, to a nuclear Iran. Over the next few weeks, the US and the UK will be seeking a third sanctions resolution in the UN Security Council, this time with considerably more teeth than the first two. In a recent speech, Nick Burns, the State Department's point-man on the issue, hinted at a possible target: export credits. "The Europeans had $22 billion in export credits made available to their own companies last year and the year before to stimulate trade with Iran," Burns said. "And we've said to the Europeans, isn't this a little bit contradictory? "We don't support what the Iranians are doing on the nuclear side or the terrorism front, so there shouldn't be a business-as-usual, commercial attitude on the part of Europeans and the European Union with Iran. We'd like to see those export credits not just reduced, but completely eliminated." But let's say the US goes for a ban on export credits to Iran and the Russians or Chinese, or the Germans, for that matter, say no. According to the pattern thus far, the US will quietly respond, oh well, never mind. It is this sort of lowest-common-denominator approach that has led to Teheran's race to nuclearize and brazen support for terrorism in the first place. Iran pushes as far as it can go, and each time it meets with no significant resistance, it pushes harder. How can this cycle be broken? The US State Department has been loathe to break the unanimity of the sanctions campaign. At all costs, it seems, it will avoid a situation where Iran can claim the West is divided. This approach has a certain logic, but it also has obvious limits. Those limits have been reached. If effective sanctions are ever to be imposed, those countries that have most vociferously opposed military action - and who have also blocked serious sanctions - must be called to account. Eventually, the US must be willing to say to Europe, "You cannot trade with Iran and hope to both stop its nuclear program and avoid military action." The US, together with Europe, must say to Russia and China, you cannot oppose further sanctions and claim that Iran must not have nuclear weapons. You also cannot claim there is any doubt as to Teheran's intentions. And if you do, we will accuse you of aiding Iran's nuclear push, and this will have consequences for our bilateral relations. In all this, Israel too has a role. Our government must sound the alarm that, in the race between sanctions and Iran's nuclear program, the sanctions campaign is losing. We must say that more incrementalism is not enough; we must skip, right now, to sanctions that can work, not just what is acceptable to Russia and China. We must also speak of Europe's special responsibility to not stand by as the threat grows - first and foremost against Israel, but against all free nations. Finally, we must warn that the window during which military action can be avoided is closing quickly. John Bolton should not be alone in sounding this alarm. Israel should be sounding it too.