American Enterprise Online
May 29, 2006
By Alan W. Dowd

The self-styled holy men who run the Islamic Republic of Iran have gone out of their way, especially over the last several weeks, to show off their growing cache of conventional weapons—and to shelter their nascent nuclear arsenal: They have brandished new high-speed torpedoes designed to kill US subs and cripple US aircraft carriers; new naval assets designed to shut down the Straight of Hormuz and shut off 17 percent of global oil supply; new missiles aimed at Europe designed to divide and decouple the two sides of the Atlantic; forthcoming shipments of next-generation air-defense systems designed to protect nuclear sites; and, of course, the nuclear sites themselves, designed to produce weapons that will deter Iran’s enemies or blackmail them or destroy them.

But sometimes words speak just as loud as actions.

“Israel must be wiped off the map…The Islamic world will not let its historic enemy live in its heartland.”
-Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, October 2005

“The countries of the West are vulnerable and they will suffer more than we will if they try to prevent Iran from developing nuclear capability.”
-Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, March 2006

“Those who want to prevent Iranians from obtaining their right [to nuclear energy and technology] should know that we do not give a damn about such resolutions.”
-Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, April 2006

“The Iranian nation has acquired nuclear fuel production technology…and nobody can take it back.”
-Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, April 2006

“Some 60 years have passed since the end of World War II, and why should the people of Germany and Palestine pay now for a war in which the current generation was not involved? We say that this fake regime [Israel] cannot logically continue to exist.”
-Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, April 2006

“September Eleven was not a simple operation. Could it be planned and executed without coordination with intelligence and security services—or their extensive infiltration? Of course this is just an educated guess.”
-Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, May 2006
In response to these provocations:

-UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has politely asked Tehran “to lift the cloud of uncertainty surrounding its nuclear project” and to clarify if “it is seeking nuclear weapons.” (Annan is apparently the only person on earth still uncertain about the nature of Iran’s once-clandestine nuclear program.)

-America’s friends in Russia have inked a deal worth $700 million to ship the aforementioned air-defense systems to Tehran.

-Responsible governments in Europe have gotten serious by dispatching more diplomats, holding more talks, and, as the AP recently reported, building a “basket of incentives meant to entice Iran to give up” its illegal nuclear activities.
To be fair, some in Europe do seem to be rousing from their slumber. “We are, of course, compelled to respond to the totally unacceptable provocations of the Iranian president,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel concluded at a recent security conference. “We have learned the lessons of our past.”

-Many steps ahead of its European counterparts, Israel has leaked word that preemptive strikes are an option. TheLondon Sunday Times reported last spring that Israel has drawn up plans to use air strikes and commandos against Tehran’s nuclear sites. In late April, Israel launched a spy satellite tasked solely with watching Iran.

-Washington has refused to rule out another preemptive war, although it has remained coy when it comes to red lines and deadlines. At last week’s press conference with Prime Minister Tony Blair, for instance, President Bush again promised that “all options are on the table,” but then added that he would “continue to work to convince [Iran] that we're serious, that if they want to be isolated from the world, we will work to achieve that.”

Military analyst William Arkin argues that it’s time for Washington to end the ambiguity and to make it clear to Tehran that war is a very real option. “Iran needs to understand,” according to Arkin, “that the United States isn’t hamstrung by a lack of options. It needs to realize that it can’t just stonewall and evade its international obligations.” He notes that the US is sifting through a number of military options. Under codenames such as TIRANNT (for “Theater Iran Near Term”), Pentagon planners are considering how to de-nuclearize the Iranian regime. According to Arkin, some of the scenarios include air strikes, some involve ground forces, and some even raise the grim and ironic possibility of using nuclear weapons to eliminate Iran’s nukes.  

Arkin may be right about the benefits of clarifying the stakes and risks for Iran. Of course, given how the US has responded to threats since 9/11, the picture should be crystal clear from Tehran’s vantage point. If Ahmadinejad and the mullahs don’t appreciate what they are setting in motion, that’s not Washington’s problem.  

Washington’s problem is weighing the consequences of a nuclear Iran against what happens once those military options leap from the bloodless world of computer models to the real world. Any of those options would carry heavy human and political costs for the US, which means none of the options is particularly good. But all of them are arguably better than a nuclear-armed Islamic Republic of Iran.  

Ominous Silence
As Ahmadinejad blusters, fires off rambling religious rants disguised as diplomatic correspondence, and shows off his new weapons like a child with new toys, one is struck by the relative silence coming from the White House and Pentagon. When juxtaposed with the fiery rhetoric leading up to the Iraq war, it is an ominous silence. 

Perhaps the Bush administration is so focused on Iraq that it cannot divert resources (rhetorical, political or otherwise) to neighboring Iran. One could certainly draw this conclusion from last week’s press conference with Blair, during which Bush devoted a few sentences to tomorrow’s problem (nuclear missiles in Iran) and almost an hour to today’s (nation-building in Iraq). 

Perhaps the administration has decided to defer this problem to someone else, as other administrations did with revolutionary Iran, Baathist Iraq and the metastases of Islamic terror. If so, it should give Americans and their allies pause. An America in retreat will only invite something worse than 9/11.

Or perhaps the Bush administration is simply biding its time—a much more likely prospect given the administration’s record with Iran’s eastern and western neighbors. Tempered by the ambush leading up to Iraq, perhaps the president has learned that silence is now an ally and rhetoric a weakness.  

Perhaps he has decided to let the EU and IAEA wave papers in front of Tehran in the hopes of shaming the shameless, to let the armchair generals accuse him of blundering by waiting too long (just as they once accused him of blundering by not waiting long enough), to let the diplomatic dance run its course—and to let America’s silence speak for itself.