Does President Bush intend a preventive war, early this year, to effect the nuclear castration of Iran? Or are we rattling sabers?
What makes the question urgent are German reports that CIA Director Porter Goss has been in Ankara, Turkey, negotiating for U.S. use of bases for air strikes on Iran’s nuclear sites. Over the weekend, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said time is running out on diplomacy to deal with the Iranian nuclear threat.
The Israelis are warning that if diplomacy fails, and we do not haul Tehran before the Security Council for sanctions, Israel will denuclearize Iran herself. The end of March is said to be the deadline for when Israel decides whether the West is serious.
Turning up the heat, the Israeli lobby AIPAC has begun to rap President Bush — for wimpishness on Iran. Prediction: If Bush does not confront or attack Tehran, Israel and its Amen Corner will begin to give him the same treatment they gave his father.
As for the Iranians, they seem to believe U.S. maneuvers and Israeli threats are a bluff. On New Year’s Day, Ali Larijani, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, dismissed them as "psychological warfare."
"Iran has prepared itself," he said. "They will get a crushing response if they make such a mistake." About Israel he was direct: "If there is any truth in such talks, Israel will suffer greatly. It’s a very small country within our range."
Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who says Israel should be "wiped off the map" and the Holocaust is a myth, is still on message. On New Year’s Day, he charged Europeans with setting up a "Jewish camp" in the Middle East, with the most sinister of motives.
"Don’t you think that continuation of genocide by expelling Jews from Europe was one of their aims in creating a regime of occupiers of Al Quds (Jerusalem)?" Ahmadinejad was quoted by Iran’s official Islamic Republic News. "Isn’t that an important question?"
Ahmadinejad is, as they say, "playing to the base." As the Islamic world believes it has been made to do penance for the sins of Europeans by having had a Jewish state planted in its midst, armed by America, Ahmadinejad is trying to make himself a folk hero to the Arab street, as did Saddam back in 1990, when he talked about "burning half of Israel."
But the Iranian president is playing with fire. For he appears to be slamming the door on diplomacy. His rhetoric may be causing the British, French and German negotiators to conclude there is no dealing with an Iranian president who talks like this, yet will be in office for four years.
That puts the ball squarely in Bush’s court. The problem for the president is this: What Iran is demanding it be allowed to do — enrich uranium for peaceful uses — it has every right to do under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which Iran signed, but which Israel, India and Pakistan, all of which clandestinely produced nukes, did not.
Tehran is telling Bush: We are not going to be the only country on earth to have signed the NPT and then be told by you we cannot exercise our rights under the treaty.
While Iran did briefly suspend the conversion of "yellowcake" into uranium hexaflouride, the gaseous substance out of which enriched uranium is made, it has now restarted the process.
But there is still no hard evidence Iran has created a cascade of centrifuges to enrich uranium for peaceful power, let alone for an explosive device. Nor is there hard evidence Iran has the technology, components or competence to weaponize a nuclear device, even if it had the highly enriched uranium to create one.
As of today, Iran is not a nuclear threat.
While the Israelis say the last chance to stop her from going nuclear is only weeks always, others say Iran is years from having the capacity to produce a bomb. Even then, it would confront foes with hundreds or thousands of such weapons.
Thus, it is hard to see how U.S. vital interests would be served by a war on Iran for asserting its rights under the NPT. Nor has Bush been authorized by Congress to launch a preventive war on Iran. The Bush "axis-of-evil" doctrine notwithstanding, we still have a Constitution.
The neocons assure us the regime would crack under an attack and Iranians would welcome us, but this is the same "cakewalk" crowd that told us the Iraqis would welcome us killing their soldier sons, occupying their country and putting Ahmad Chalabi in Saddam’s palace.
If we attack Iran, Tehran would incite the Shia to rise up and kill Americans in Iraq, and send volunteers join them, which would mean escalation and could mean a strategic disaster for the United States.
As Bush’s hero Churchill said, "To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war." Truman talked to Stalin, Ike to Khrushchev, Nixon to Mao. After 25 years, it’s time for Bush to talk to Tehran. For neither of us would benefit from a war.