Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
February 4, 2005
WAR: A Man, A Plan, Iran
Condoleazza Rice, meeting with Tony Blair, stresses that we are not yet at the point of armed conflict with the Iranian mullahs. Andrew McCarthy says no serious person should object to news that the U.S. has been developing war plans to deal with the possibility of war with Iran. True enough on both scores - but what is the Administration's affirmative plan for Iran? We got a glimpse Wednesday night in the State of the Union Address:
To promote peace in the broader Middle East, we must confront regimes that continue to harbor terrorists and pursue weapons of mass murder. Syria still allows its territory, and parts of Lebanon, to be used by terrorists who seek to destroy every chance of peace in the region. You have passed, and we are applying, the Syrian Accountability Act -- and we expect the Syrian government to end all support for terror and open the door to freedom. Today, Iran remains the world's primary state sponsor of terror -- pursuing nuclear weapons while depriving its people of the freedom they seek and deserve. We are working with European allies to make clear to the Iranian regime that it must give up its uranium enrichment program and any plutonium reprocessing, and end its support for terror. And to the Iranian people, I say tonight: As you stand for your own liberty, America stands with you.
(Emphasis mine; the promotion of Syria to this kind of treatment in the State of the Union speech is also momentous). Regime Change Iran thinks that Bush is maneuvering to pressure Iran on human rights, a common ground that will be palatable to the EU and UN. (via Instapundit). This may be right, but it seems a bit narrow - I don't think it was idle chatter for Bush to stress Iran's role as the leading state sponsor of terror. I suspect that he'll try to pressure Iran on multiple grounds and not just human rights, with sponsorship of terrorists being also on the table. But the blogger's point about the coming Iranian election in June suggests a flashpoint - we may try to use the examples of Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine and the Palestinian Authority to drum up international support for microscopic scrutiny of Iran's election process (although a fair vote is meaningless if the candidates are still hand-picked or their offices are powerless).
I'm happy to see the debate shift away from too great a focus on Iran's nuclear capabilities, which can be notoriously difficult to ascertain from afar, and onto the nature of its regime, which is the real problem. At the end of the day, after all, our gripe with the Iranians' terror-sponsoring tyranny, not with their having weapons. This ties into a point Stanley Kurtz made the other day about Iraq (scroll down to "Korea and Iraq" if the link doesn't work) -i.e., that Iraq's ability to get WMDs from outside sources like North Korea means that the actual state of its stocks of those weapons was far less important than its intentions and behavior. As I've said since before the invasion, the problem was the nature of the regime itself:
The test for whether we should seek regime change should be whether a regime has (1) the desire to attack civilian targets outside the context of an openly declared war and (2) has or is working on the means to do so, or to give aid and comfort to those who do so. Number (1) is the key, and it's not always susceptible to hard proof, but the best evidence of a regime's desire to attack American or other civilians is the level of anti-American vitriol in its official statements. It amazes me that people debating the merits of these things always tell us to ignore what the other guy says. Evidence of past complicity in terrorism, or past aggressive wars by the same basic regime (by which I mean the guy in power or predecessors in the same unelected junta, not ancient history) are also key. Try a little common sense, and it's not hard to figure out who our enemies really are. There are a million little ways that a regime shows itself to be unwilling to abide by the basic norms of international behavior (by which I mean standards other nations actually live by, not pie-in-the-sky ideals like Kyoto), and when you add them up it's easy to discern the difference between countries with weapons of mass destruction ("WMD") that merely disdain us but would never do violence to us (i.e., France) and places like Iraq and North Korea and Cuba and Syria and Iran that don't respect the rights of their own people or anyone else's in the day-to-day commerce of nations. Look for countries that don't allow free foreign press, just as a sample.
The key problem with Saddam was neither his possession of WMDs nor his ability to acquire them, but rather his intent - we knew he could be ruthless enough to use chemical weapons in battle and against his own people, we knew he had shown a willingness to work with terrorists, and we knew he was known to do things that were not, at least by our standards, rational (the best example of which was when he tried to have George HW Bush blown up). All these "well, if you go after Saddam, where does it stop" arguments always ignored the fact that the key issue was Saddam's behavior and state of mind, not his capabilies. If we didn't learn that from seeing a handful of guys armed with box cutters kill 3,000 people, we never will.
And that's why Iran and Syria stand ahead of other countries that may have arsenals of weapons or deprive their people of rights - because the overall track record of the regimes' hostility to the U.S. and support for terrorism makes them a threat. Hopefully, Bush will turn the screws on Iran in multiple directions to try to get another rehime of that nature out of power.