Iran: The Burden of the Man in the Chair
For reasons both practical (our support for the government of the Shah) and religious (our status as the lead state of the infidel and hated West), the United States of America became The Enemy for the new Islamic Republic. In almost every sphere--political, cultural, educational, social--the new state defined itself negatively, by contrasting its virtues with the sins of the United States.
And then came the Hostage Crisis. We are often unpleasantly shocked to discover that many young people do not know about the crisis (except vaguely) and, worse, do not understand its profound significance. It was by and through the Hostage Crisis that the United States came to know that it has a ruthless enemy in Islamic Fascism. The deep wound that the Crisis unleashed on the hapless presidency of Jimmy Carter set the stage for America's sharp turn to the Right in 1980. And, most ominously, it provided the first in a long string of political victories for the new Islamic Republic.
Feeling its strength, the Islamic Republic began to wage war against what it officially calls the "Great Satan" (the "Little Satan" being, of course, Israel) in a number of frustratingly cunning ways. From funding Hezbollah in Lebanon to suicide bombers in Saudi Arabia, the leaders of the Islamic Republic have had their eye on their main enemy from the start.
Prior to 9/11, the United States viewed these activities as (to coin a phrase) nuisances. However, once Islamic Fascism had shown itself ready, willing and able to carry out attacks of mass destruction in the United States itself, the prism through with the Islamic Republic was seen changed sharply.
What We Know About the Islamic Republic and Terrorism
Unlike in the debate leading up to the invasion of Iraq, there is no question that the Islamic Republic is a state sponsor of terrorism. From the State Department's most recent report on its terrorism-sponsoring activities we learn that:
Iran remained the most active state sponsor of terrorism in 2003. Its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Ministry of Intelligence and Security were involved in the planning of and support for terrorist acts and continued to exhort a variety of groups that use terrorism to pursue their goals.
Irans record against al-Qaida remains mixed. After the fall of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, some al-Qaida members fled to Iran where they have found virtual safehaven. Iranian officials have acknowledged that Tehran detained al-Qaida operatives during 2003, including senior members. Irans publicized presentation of a list to the United Nations of deportees, however, was accompanied by a refusal to publicly identify senior members in Iranian custody on the grounds of security. Iran has resisted calls to transfer custody of its al-Qaida detainees to their countries of origin or third countries for further interrogation and trial.
During 2003, Iran maintained a high-profile role in encouraging anti-Israeli activity, both rhetorically and operationally. Supreme Leader Khamenei praised Palestinian resistance operations, and President Khatami reiterated Irans support for the wronged people of Palestine and their struggles. Matching this rhetoric with action, Iran provided Lebanese Hizballah and Palestinian rejectionist groups -- notably HAMAS, the Palestine Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of PalestineGeneral Command -- with funding, safehaven, training, and weapons. Iran hosted a conference in August 2003 on the Palestinian intifadah, at which an Iranian official suggested that the continued success of the Palestinian resistance depended on suicide operations.
Iran pursued a variety of policies in Iraq aimed at securing Tehrans perceived interests there, some of which ran counter to those of the Coalition. Iran has indicated support for the Iraqi Governing Council and promised to help Iraqi reconstruction.
Shortly after the fall of Saddam Hussein, individuals with ties to the Revolutionary Guard may have attempted to infiltrate southern Iraq, and elements of the Iranian Government have helped members of Ansar al-Islam transit and find safehaven in Iran. In a Friday Prayers sermon in Tehran in May, Guardian Council member Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati publicly encouraged Iraqis to follow the Palestinian model and participate in suicide operations against Coalition forces. (Emphasis added).
All of this is common knowledge. The Islamic Republic's leaders can hardly be bothered to deny it. All experience forces the conclusion: since its inception the Islamic Republic has been a terrorist state and, worse, one that views the United States as its main adversary and target.
The Islamic Republic's Nuclear Programme
The Islamic Republic's flagrant violations of its treaty obligations and its secret program to acquire nuclear weapons became so blatant that by 2003 even the United Nations was taking notice. According to a March 2003 report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace:
The heat is on for Iran to clarify its nuclear ambitions. On June 19, the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) called on Tehran to stop plans to begin enriching uranium and to allow "all access deemed necessary" to clarify questions over Iran's nuclear program. But the Board stopped short of declaring Iran in violation of its treaty obligations, nor did it refer the matter to the UN Security Council, as some U.S. officials had urged.
The IAEA's statement was a compromise that fell short of U.S. Ambassador Kenneth Brill's assertion that findings on Iran's nuclear program "will point to only one conclusion: that Iran is aggressively pursuing a nuclear weapons program."
The IAEA stated that Iran had not lived up to its reporting obligations under the terms of its Safeguard Agreement. Iran's IAEA Safeguard Agreement requires the country to provide the agency with information "concerning nuclear material subject to safeguards under the Agreement and the features of facilities relevant to safeguarding such material." Technically, Iran is still in compliance with its Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) obligations, but as the IAEA stated, "it is the number of failures of Iran to report the material facilities and activities in question" that is "a matter of concern." Going back over a 10-year period Iran has followed a pattern of obfuscation that raises well-founded international suspicions about Iran's nuclear program.
This game of cat-and-mouse, so familiar to those who followed the bobs and weaves of Saddam Hussein in his final years--has continued to the present day. The US would demand action, the EU would wring its hands, Iran would point out that it is "technically" still in compliance with its NPT obligations, and the IAEA would attempt to please everyone by splitting the difference.
Matters came to a head in November of last year when a diplomatic mission led by Germany, France and the U.K. (obviously playing good cop to the U.S. bad cop, yet another benefit of the President's strategy that is hardly credited) were able to negotiate a new agreement with the Islamic Republic under which:
Iran reaffirms that, in accordance with Article II of the NPT, it does not and will not seek to acquire nuclear weapons. It commits itself to full cooperation and transparency with the IAEA. Iran will continue to implement the Additional Protocol voluntarily pending ratification.
To build further confidence, Iran has decided, on a voluntary basis, to continue and extend its suspension to include all enrichment related and reprocessing activities, and specifically: the manufacture and import of gas centrifuges and their components; the assembly, installation, testing or operation of gas centrifuges; work to undertake any plutonium separation, or to construct or operate any plutonium separation installation; and all tests or production at any uranium conversion installation. The IAEA will be notified of this suspension and invited to verify and monitor it. The suspension will be implemented in time for the IAEA to confirm before the November Board that it has been put into effect. The suspension will be sustained while negotiations proceed on a mutually acceptable agreement on long-term arrangements
Thus, in the end, the United States is left basically where it was with Saddam Hussein: it can either take steps unilaterally to secure its national security, or it can trust the same multi-lateral agency that was unable to do anything about Iran's nuclear programme until 2003--and then only very reluctantly--to keep it safe.
And with the United States seemingly heavily over-committed to the Iraq War, with the rising domestic opposition to Bush's policies, the rising international condemnation of US foreign policy, and the staggering costs of the War, it seems unlikely that the US is able, let alone likely, to strike out largely on it own initiative once again.
The Man in the Chair
The President of the United States is, we think, a lonely man in a way perhaps only the kings and emperors of old could understand. The position is often called that of the "most powerful man in the world," but that is only because of the number of responsibilities on his shoulders. Due to the world-wide responsibilities of the position--everything from seeing that the seas remain open to commerce, that the world's most productive economy continues to make the world richer, to providing regional leadership in places where America's national interest is scant--people often forget he is America's President, first and foremost.
We don't have much sympathy for Senator John Kerry. Kerry is, by almost all accounts, a vain and dangerously wooly-headed man, a true 68'er whose first and most basic impulse regarding all the world's ills is to find the American responsible for them.
We also, truth be told, have some serious concerns about President Bush. Despite his many virtues, we feel the President is a bit too romantic about the universality of American values and, due to his deep respect for religion, more than a bit blind about the danger Islamic Fascism poses to our way of life. We detected, like many others, annoying strains of America-as-Messiah in his Second Inaugural Address.
In short, to use the brilliant political labels of Walter Russell Mead's extraordinary National Interest essay, "The Jacksonian Tradition and American Foreign Policy" (we are unaware of any other essay that can so succinctly sum up the different strains of thought that make up the American political landscape) we found one candidate too Jeffersonian and the other with too many Wilsonian impurities ruining what is otherwise a Jacksonian masterpiece.
In the end, however, all this is so much noise. Yes, the US is busy in Iraq, and, yes, we have engendered an alarmingly high level of anti-Americanism as a result. Yes, the Armed Forces are over-extended now. Yes, the President doesn't have the political capital to lead the US into another war, and, yes, yes, yes, we can't afford more trouble.
And, yet, at the end of the day, the final decision is going to come to the man in the chair, be he Republican or Democrat. We really believe that given the facts above the two parties, despite differing rhetoric, really wouldn't deviate too much from each other in the final analysis.
Even slow Joe Biden, arguably the emptiest head in a Senate Democratic caucus that has more than its fair share, knows the facts. Today, in that liberal fantasy land that is the World Economic Forum, Senator Biden told--directly, to his face, in front of a large crowd--the Islamic Republic's Foreign minister that both liberal and conservative Americans agreed "that it is not in our interest ... for you to acquire nuclear capability for nuclear weapons and intermediate or long range missile technology."
No President of the United States--no Democrat, no Republican--will stand quietly while a radical, terrorist-sponsoring nation that, as a matter of policy, holds rallies where it exhorts its citizens to suicide bombings while chanting "Death to America!" acquires nuclear capability.
The duty of the man in the chair, whoever he is, is clear. And may God and the American people help him carry it out.