Turn the tables on Iran, Mr. President

If Bush can stop Iran in 2008, his legacy can be saved.

Bush waves 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Bush waves 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Israelis will welcome US President George Bush today with the sincere warmth due a great friend of this nation. More than any other world leader, Bush understands and sympathizes with our predicament at a fundamental level. Similarly, Bush would be right to feel that Israelis understand what drives him more than many Americans. At the same time, this visit is overshadowed by undeniable tinges of sadness, desperation and even a feeling of betrayal. The first visit as president of such a great friend should be a tremendous occasion, yet it is serving as a tragic reminder of how skewed American policy has become, and how far the messenger seems to have strayed from his message. It was President Bush, after all, in the days and weeks after 9/11, who launched a revolution in American foreign policy. Put simply, the Bush Doctrine was: if you support terrorists, you are a terrorist. Within a relatively short time, this doctrine was put into practice in Afghanistan and Iraq, where American-led might toppled terrorist regimes. Through its actions, America had demonstrated that state support for terrorism - especially when combined with the pursuit of nuclear weapons - would be confronted and could lead to regime change. All along, there was little question as to the direction the Bush Doctrine had to proceed. For decades, Iran had topped the US State Department's list of terror-supporting regimes, and there was no doubt that the mullahs were bent on obtaining nuclear weapons. To borrow from Iran's own taxonomy of America as the "Great Satan" and Israel as the "Little Satan," it was clear from the beginning that Afghanistan and Iraq, as threatening as they were, were offshoots in comparison to the mothership of terror, Iran. On May 1, 2003, as Saddam's statues where being toppled all over Iraq, in a speech aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln that became infamous because of the "Mission Accomplished" banner hanging in the background, Bush explained where the war had come and where it was going: "Our war against terror is proceeding according to principles that I have made clear to all: Any person involved in committing or planning terrorist attacks against the American people becomes an enemy of this country, and a target of American justice... Any outlaw regime that has ties to terrorist groups and seeks or possesses weapons of mass destruction is a grave danger to the civilized world - and will be confronted." Perhaps without meaning to, the recent US National Intelligence Estimate revealed how dramatically Iran got the message: in 2003 it stopped the part of its secret program dedicated to actually building a nuclear weapon. At about the same time, Libya revealed its secret nuclear program, and pledged to dismantle it and forswear terrorism. But then came the counterrevolution. While the US was busy trying to help Iraqis recover from Saddam's brutal rule and build a democracy, Iran was busy sowing terror and mayhem, not only in Iraq, but in Lebanon and Gaza. And instead of working systematically to counter the billions Iran was spending to make Iraq ungovernable, the US did almost nothing to combat Iran's proxies until much later, when it was almost too late. Finally, the US figured out how to turn things around in Iraq and has been making progress over the last few months. But as Bush himself taught us, this will be for nought if all the forces the US has been fighting - Hamas, Hizbullah, and al-Qaida - suddenly enjoy the tailwind that a nuclear Iran could provide. The forces of jihad, which were on the run in 2003, could be chasing the US by 2009. The Annapolis process is not a driver of this scenario but a weather vane for it: if the Iranian bomb is stopped, the more moderate camp will enjoy new life. If that bomb keeps moving ahead, the moderates will sputter. The most important thing Bush can do now is show that he understands this by telling Europe that the success of Annapolis (and in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and elsewhere) depends on stopping Iran, with the goal of convincing Europe to match the sanctions the US has already imposed. If Bush can do this in 2008, his legacy can be saved and the tables turned back toward the side of a freer and safer world. If he cannot, whatever has been painfully accomplished in recent months - and indeed in the last seven years - will progressively unravel, leaving the next US president to cope with a deteriorating world.