The Soviet Union may have ended, but the cold war between Moscow and Washington never did. Over the last 16 years, the Russians have taken full advantage of our distraction with our domestic issues in the 1990s and the war against Islamic terror since September 11, 2001. They have used that time to solidify an increasingly powerful authoritarian regime in the Kremlin, re-assert their influence over the former Soviet Republics and tighten their control over some of the world’s richest oil reserves. At the same time, they’ve proliferated nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, grown fabulously rich doing so, and propped up useful proxies like Iran. They have also paralyzed the UN Security Council on issues like nuclear inspections of regimes such as Iran and North Korea, not only because they have a veto but because the Chinese (and often the French) follow their lead. The Russian bear never really hibernates.
Rather than confront the Russians head-on, however, we’ve buried our head in the Saudi sands. Instead of dealing straightaway with both Russia and its most major client, a soon-to-be nuclear Iran, we have chosen instead to further drown the Middle East in weapons.
For years, the Russians have been proliferating nuclear materials to Tehran, either directly or through third parties. As the French found with nuclear sales to Saddam Hussein, it is a most profitable venture for a regime with limited other exports and a shaky economy. For Russia, nuclear exports are lucrative, easy, and sold without conscience. For Iran, the Russians are the perfect business partners: discreet, willing, and reliable. Some Russia-watchers say Moscow is only interested in money, not spheres of influence. But leopards’ spots don’t change: Russia is still a great power with attendant interests. And even if they are only interested in money, then they are looking to be bought off — by us, by the Iranians, by whoever will pay.
It is amazing the lengths to which we will go to avoid dealing with the root problem, headquartered in Moscow. Of course, the Saudis, our slippery “allies,” condemn global Islamic terror on one hand and finance it with the other. But Sunni Riyadh has two big nightmares: one, that the Islamic fundamentalists they have spent years trying to placate will overthrow them; and two, that Shiite Iran will dominate the entire Persian Gulf once it possesses a nuclear weapon. On the first scenario, the Sheikhs believe they have bought themselves some time and space. On the second scenario, they believe they have neither. That is why they are requesting ever-more advanced weapons from the United States.
This week, the Bush administration announced a proposed sale to Riyadh of satellite-guided “smart” weapons. Under the terms, Saudi Arabia will receive thousands of Joint Direct Attack Munitions, a kit that converts existing unguided free-fall bombs into precision-guided “smart” weapons. The sale was coupled with a 25% increase in U.S. military aid to Israel, but Tel Aviv still registered deep concern that the new weapons would give Saudi Arabia the capability to accurately fire missiles into southern Israel.
The Israeli concerns are legitimate, but that’s not what this sale is about. It’s about the U.S. calming the Saudis about the growing Iranian nuclear threat. It’s about buying time with Riyadh so it doesn’t begin to go nuclear to compete with Tehran. It’s about stalling.
The Russians then did what they do best: kick up the arms race. A day or so after the Saudi sale was announced, it was reported that Moscow plans to sell 250 advanced long-range fighter jets to…guess who? Their “partners in peace,” the Iranians. According to the Jerusalem Post, Iran also plans to buy a number of aerial fuel tankers compatible with the fighter jets and capable of extending their range by thousands of miles, giving Tehran new offensive capabilities. This sale comes on the heels of another recent Iranian purchase of advanced Russian antiaircraft systems used to protect Iran’s nuclear installations (the ones they claim are for “peaceful” purposes.) The Israelis are raising legitimate concerns about this sale as well, but again, that’s not what this transaction is all about.
The Russians are selling nuclear materials and other weapons to Iran because Iran is succeeding in defeating the United States in Iraq, harboring many top members of our most lethal enemy, al Qaeda, exporting terror and its tools around the world, and destroying our greatest Middle East ally, Israel, through Hezbollah and Hamas. The Russians are interested only in humiliating and weakening the United States in the region so their proxy and client, Iran, can dominate it. And by extension, the Russians will control it all.
Despite our best efforts to deny it, there is an intensifying cold war with Russia. It is manifesting in a nuclearizing Iran. But rather than deal with the core problem, we are papering over it with new arms sales to a major terrorist-sponsoring state which poses as our “ally.” Of course, Moscow is countering by selling arms to the definitive terrorist-sponsoring state which has called for “Death to America” since 1979. It is a vicious spiral that is enormously destabilizing. Unless and until we deal with the REAL issue — Russia — we will have a nuclear Iran, a violent and volatile Iraq, Israel under increasing siege, a region in hot pursuit of nuclear weapons, and oil at $100 a barrel, perhaps more. The Russians are the ultimate ringleaders of all of this. And confronting them in a way reminiscent of Ronald Reagan is the only way we are going to halt any of it.