The Atlanticist

Faced with Islamist Iran developing nuclear weapons, America’s political leaders have turned Teddy Roosevelt’s maxim speak softly and carry a big stick on its head.

In the first presidential debate Senator Obama declared “We cannot tolerate a nuclear Iran.” In the second debate he reaffirmed “We cannot allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon.” In this he, President Bush, Senator Clinton and Senator McCain appear to agree. It is hard however to imagine Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and President Ahmadinejad view their declarations as equally credible.

Curbing radical Islam is the transcendent challenge of our time. A nuclear Iran will be an existential threat to Israel, its neighbors, and indeed the entire civilized world. It is the world’s leading sponsor of terror, wants to commit a second Holocaust, and with nukes will have the means. Iran also calls for a world without America.

The Iranian theocracy has been waging a low-tech war against the West and its neighbors since 1979. It has committed or sponsored terrorism in Argentina, Europe, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Iraq. When the mullahs have nuclear weapons, missiles that can reach Europe and irregular delivery systems such as Hezbollah and potentially Al Qaeda, they will be far less constrained, our weak-kneed European allies will be even more appeasement minded, and other Middle Eastern states will seek atomic arms.

What has the West done? Having branded it a member of the Axis of Evil, Bush’s feckless policy to prevent Iran from obtaining atomic weaponry accomplished nothing. Our British, French and German allies conducted three years of utterly fruitless negotiations with Iran, giving the mullahs time, and, forestalling US military action when Bush had the political capital and possibly the will to act, which for some Europeans’ was the exercise’s purpose.

Outside of the much acclaimed Iraq surge Bush’s second term has been characterized by abject weakness on the foreign policy front. Now he has embraced carrot-heavy diplomacy with nuclear North Korea, the third member of the Axis of Evil. The US will remove it from the list of terrorism sponsors in return for yet another empty promise.

It is in the Iranian regime’s interest to have nukes. Absent a credible military threat or punishing economic sanctions vigorously supported by Europe, Russia and China and a blockade, diplomacy to persuade it to give up that ambition was never going work. The mullahs are unpopular. Regime change may have been possible if it had been vigorously supported by the West. But it’s too late to bank on.

The civilized world thus far has rationalized not taking decisive action.

Reasonable people can argue how close Iran is. Many urge more futile diplomacy suggesting there’s always time for the military option. However, intelligence is not perfect. Pakistan’s, India’s, North Korea’s and Israel’s going nuclear surprised us. Better to act before we think absolutely necessary than to risk waiting until it is too late.

America has the power to prevent Iran from going nuclear. Retired Air Force Lt. General Tom McInerney outlined how comprehensive precision air strikes could destroy its nuclear weapons facilities and military command and control infrastructure.

Nobody likes military force, but at this juncture it is the only assured means of preventing Iran becoming a nuclear power.

Bombing would prevent a pariah state and supremacist Islamists from obtaining and using nukes, preserve options for curbing Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism, and deter bad actors worldwide. Recall Bush’s unheralded first-term success persuading Libya to abandon its nuclear weapons program. After the American-led coalition toppled Saddam Hussein, Libyan strongman Qaddafi worried he might be next and decided his nuclear program wasn’t worth the risk.

But surely America shouldn’t act alone.

The U.N. and our European allies will never beseech the U.S. to act. The principal help America’s allies could offer would be to provide a US administration with domestic political cover. But the British, French and Germans aren’t even willing to go that far. The world’s most beneficent superpower in history will have to decide to act, or not, on its own, in its and the civilized world’s interest. Or the “little Satan” Israel may have to strike.

Whether America has the will however is very much in doubt. The mullahs believe it doesn’t. They also have a stake in America’s presidential election. Notwithstanding Obama’s proclamations Iran doesn’t take him any more seriously than Bush. Why should it? McCain may be another matter.

Regardless of who wins the White House, if America permits Iran to go nuclear the world will pay a terrible price.

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