Where's the big stick?

What's another two weeks, after three years of avoiding and delaying the obvious?

Iran Shihab miss 298.88 (photo credit: Channel 2)
Iran Shihab miss 298.88
(photo credit: Channel 2)
The August 31 deadline set by the P5 +1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany) for Iran's answer to its package of carrots and sticks has passed. Iran, as much as it has tried to confuse matters, has obviously rejected the West's overture, and done so defiantly. Now the EU has opened talks with Iran, supposedly for two weeks. What's another two weeks, after all, following some three years of avoiding and delaying the obvious - namely, that the Iranian regime is bent on building a nuclear weapon and daring free nations to try to stop it? Speaking to the American Legion on Friday, US President George W. Bush succinctly presented a three-part indictment: "The Iranian regime arms, funds, and advises Hizbullah, which has killed more Americans than any terrorist network except al-Qaida. The Iranian regime interferes in Iraq by sponsoring terrorists and insurgents, empowering unlawful militias, and supplying components for improvised explosive devices. The Iranian regime denies basic human rights to millions of its people. And the Iranian regime is pursuing nuclear weapons in open defiance of its international obligations." In short, Iran must be confronted because it is supporting terrorism, violating human rights, and seeking nuclear weapons. Though Bush's foreign policy is supposedly controversial, there seems to be a growing level of agreement regarding the danger that he describes. First, there is the 15-0 vote in the Security Council a month ago that created the ultimatum that Iran is now defying. And even as staunch a Bush foe as The New York Times , in an editorial yesterday, did not try to argue with his goal of depriving dangerous regimes of dangerous weapons. Instead it proposed an alternative method of achieving this objective: "The only approach with even the remotest chance of success is to persuade these regimes [Iran and North Korea] that they do not need nuclear weapons to ensure their survival, and that there will be real rewards for good behavior." It is not clear where The New York Times has been the past month or so, as the US and its allies have done precisely this - so much so that proliferation experts warn that if Iran accepted the lavish package of nuclear technology the West is offering, Iran could cheat its way to a bomb. The latest mantra of the maybe-we-haven't-made-a-good-enough-offer crowd is that the US must open unconditional talks with Iran. This theory pretends that the Iranian regime would give up its nuclear ambitions if only it could be convinced that the US would let it oppress its people in peace. The problem with this theory is that the US has done better than say that such a deal is available to Teheran, it has demonstrated it. In addition its generous package of carrots, the example of Libya demonstrates that an unequivocal and verifiable abandonment of a nuclear program produces instant relief from Western pressure on a former rogue regime. After years of punishing sanctions imposed by a unified Security Council, and after the fall of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein, Libyan "madman" Muammar Gaddafi decided to convincingly dismantle a nuclear program the West did not fully know he had and forswear terrorism. As a result, sanctions have been lifted and the US has opened normal relations with Tripoli. The Iranian regime is certainly bellicose, but no one ever accused it of being obtuse. It knows full well that the Libyan option is open to it. What it does not have is a reason to take the Libyan option if it can obfuscate and scare its way out of sanctions and obtain a nuke in any case. The New York Times , the EU, and even the Bush Administration would no doubt be thrilled if Iran decided to take the Libyan option. But what chance is there of that happening before a single sanction has been imposed, and before the West has demonstrated that the price of defiance will be too high for the regime to tolerate? The problem is not that the mullahs are hard of hearing; the problem is that the West has not given them sufficient reason to listen.