Red Light, Green Light

“There’s an old saying in Tennessee - I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee - that says, fool me once, shame on - shame on you. Fool me - you can’t get fooled again.” - George W. Bush.

Kudos to Bush for refusing to be fooled even once by the duplicitous Iranian government. While there are many areas on which we can and should work with Iran - refugees, Kurds, opium, border control, etc. - the administration is taking the right tack in refusing to believe anything they hear from Teheran on Iran’s nuclear plans.

After the latest Iranian agreement to scale back their plans, I did a quick search to ascertain whether they have been as two-faced as I remember. My search was well rewarded:


PARIS, Nov. 22 - Iran appears to have frozen major nuclear activities in an effort to persuade the world that it does not intend to build nuclear bombs, the head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency said Monday.
"I think pretty much everything has come to a halt right now, so we are just trying to make sure that everything has been stopped," Mohamed ElBaradei, the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told reporters in Vienna.

TEHRAN (AFP) Oct 03, 2004
A huge majority of MPs in Iran's conservative-controlled parliament wants the country to resume uranium enrichment and will soon begin discussing a bill that would force the reformist government to do so, a senior deputy said Sunday.
"The plan to oblige the government to resume enrichment has the support of 238 deputies" out of a total 290, said Allaeddin Borujerdi, the head of the Majlis (parliament) foreign policy and national security committee.

NEW YORK (September 30) Iran's foreign minister has said that his country will never give up its right to develop nuclear technology for peaceful use, though he denied any intent to produce nuclear weapons.

TEHRAN (AFP) Apr 06, 2004
Iran promised the head of the UN nuclear watchdog Mohamed ElBaradei Tuesday that it would show greater transparency and cooperate more in a bid to quell suspicions it was seeking to develop nuclear weapons.
Last October Iran gave the IAEA what it asserted was a complete declaration of its nuclear activities. It was later found to have made a number of omissions, including its acquisition of designs for sophisticated P-2 centrifuges that can enrich uranium to bomb-grade levels that are way above those required for atomic energy reactors.

PARIS (AFP) Jan 14, 2004
[Chirac] led negotiations between Iran, the European Union and the UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, at the end of last year which led to Tehran signing the additional protocol to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty last month.
The United States accused Iran of secretly working to manufacture highly enriched uranium, which can be used to make atomic bombs. Tehran has categorically denied the claims.

Not only does Bush know folksy sayings from Texas (and probably Tennessee), he no doubt also played "Red Light, Green Light" as a child. Most readers will remember the childhood game with fondness. The contestants try to advance toward the person who is "It", but can only do so when "It's" back is turned. "It" will try to catch the contestants in motion by whirling around and yelling "Red Light", at which point everyone freezes.

In the international politics version of the game, the International Atomic Energy Agency, headed by Mohamed ElBaradei, is "It", and Iran is a contestant sneaking toward nuclear armament. Iran, however, is breaking the rules. When caught moving, they are not returning to the starting point. The IAEA is certainly successful in delaying Iran’s nuclear development, but has never forced them to give up what they have and what they know.

How will the administration face what Bush called "the greatest threat facing America"? We have a few clues. First, it opposes renewal of ElBaradei's appointment atop the IAEA (Washington Times). Presumably, a more pro-American, tougher chief is on Condi Rice's Christmas wish-list. Without abandoning the IAEA, Washington will also attempt to bring Russia on board, along with England, France, and Germany, in agreeing to isolate Iran and freeze its program forcibly.

Even this, however, may not be enough. Think of the situation from Iran's perspective: a few years ago, the only U.S. presence they had to worry about was in the Persian Gulf, where America was a good neighbor, protecting oil shipping. In three years, however, the U.S. has conquered two of Iran's neighbors and replaced Russia and China as the principle power brokers in Turkmenistan and Pakistan, respectively. Russia has moved closer to the U.S., along with its Caucasian satellites, and Turkey has exerted greater control over its eastern provinces, again with U.S. assistance. Iran, like Syria, has gone from being well-insulated to almost completely surrounded!

Fearing for their ability to control what occurs on and around their borders, Iran's motivation to acquire nuclear weapons has only increased, and it is not at all certain that even a complete embargo could stop Teheran's nuclear plans. With a strong core of well-educated scientists, and a head start on the non-proliferation enforcers, the U.S. and its allies may be left with the very unpleasant choice of allowing Iran to exist with nukes or beginning a preemptive war.

Given Iran's psyche, geography, and solidity, an Iraq-style war would be so un-winnable as to be laughable. A limited invasion - intended to annihilate nuclear facilities and kidnap scientists - might be considered, but that would bear the cost of becoming an implacable enemy of a power likely to become nuclear. If there is any way to guarantee that Iran hands off nukes or dirty bombs to terrorists, it is to violently oppose Iran's nuclear ambitions and endanger "safe" deployment of finished weapons.

A nuclear Iran is an unpleasant reality for the United States. However, we can successfully cope with it if we use our experiences with China, Pakistan, and India as a template. Having second-strike capability has been the key to America's defense against nuclear enemies since the 1940's, and it should continue to be so. The only way we lose second-strike capability is if we totally disarm (a foolish notion) or if nuclear weapons fall into the hands of suicidal, untraceable terrorists. Bush was right that this is the gravest possible danger facing the United States, though not an immediate threat.

Our response to Pakistan's armament is instructive: we immediately buddied up to them. We made it clear that we would work with them against their own fundamentalist Islamic opponents in exchange for mild terrorist control on their part. We did not choose sides between them and India. And we continue to use large amounts of cash to effectively up the ante of any potential bribe from elsewhere.

Our policy toward Iran should follow this progression:

  1. Containment. Pursue the current policy of multilateral pressure. If the program cannot be stopped, it must be slowed. We hope that liberal forces take power before the nuclear program is completed.
  2. Co-optation. If containment fails, acknowledge Iran's nuclear status and work with them to keep the nuclear club small. Remember, once they become a member of the club they will be just as exclusionary as its current members are now.
  3. Threats. Possibly before Iran acquires nukes, adopt a policy of nuclear punishment. If any regime gives weapons to terrorists, we will treat the regime as if it fired the weapons itself. This threat may seem extreme, but it is no more extreme and just as necessary as the "mutually assured destruction" of the Cold War. Iran - or North Korea - is welcome to use its nuclear weapons as a form of defense. If by malice or incompetence it allows such weapons to fall into others' hands, it should be responsible for damage caused, and the only way to enforce is to threaten equal destruction.
Posted by Chops at November 29, 2004 11:00 AM