Tuesday, January 24, 2006

A BOLD STRATEGY FOR DEALING WITH IRAN

The road to victory in the War on Terror has always led through Tehran.

Iran has long been recognized as the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism and the country continues to funnel money, arms and jihadists into Iraq for the sole purpose of destabilizing the new government and killing Americans and innocent civilians. But it is the ascendancy of belligerent President Mahmud Ahmadinejad (whom many believe to have been a leader in the 1979 hostage-taking of Americans at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran) and his nation’s mad dash to attain nuclear weapons that have moved Iran to the front burner for both the United States and Israel.

Two things are clear at this point: No diplomatic solution is possible; and Europeans, for all their bluster, will not be at our side when military action becomes essential. The time for the latter is drawing nigh, for in a post-9/11 world, we cannot afford to allow the world’s leading supporter of terrorism to join the nuclear club.

Only two nations, the United States and Israel, have the capacity and the will to stage a successful attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. In Gulf Wars I and II, the United States sought to keep Islamic emotions somewhat in check by urging Israel not to become involved, and conventional wisdom suggests that in any action aimed at Iran’s nuclear program, it remains in our interest to keep Israel out of the equation.

But what if conventional wisdom is wrong? The world has changed dramatically in recent years, and so should our strategy for dealing with Iran. Her neighbor to the east, Afghanistan, is a U.S. ally and no longer serves as a base for unchecked radical Islamic terrorism. On her western border, Saddam’s regime is history, replaced by a fledgling democracy whose military and police forces are slowly but surely developing the capability for handling both die-hard Baathists and foreign terrorists (who are aided and abetted by Iran and Syria). The government of Pakistan, on her southeastern flank, was co-opted by the United States after 9/11. Libya has taken itself out of the fight. Jordan and Saudi Arabia have seen first-hand that they cannot remain neutral in the face of radical Islamic terrorism. Syrian excesses have forced the government of Bashar Assad to withdraw forces from Lebanon, where independence is in the air. Yasser Arafat is dead, the Palestinian Authority is as ineffectual as ever, and Israel’s security fence appears to be working. Al Qaeda has been unable to stage another attack on the U.S. mainland since 9/11, its leadership holed up in mountain caves under constant threat of death by Predator.

Iran is isolated and surrounded, yet its fundamentalist government thumbs its nose at the west, believing that the Europeans are all talk and that the United States is too isolated politically, too bogged down in Iraq, and too fearful of an oil cutoff to risk opening another front by attacking Iranian nuclear facilities.

There is a certain logic to that view, though it unravels completely if we do the unexpected: Openly ally with Israel to stage joint air, land and sea operations aimed not just at Iraq’s nuclear program but at overthrowing the regime itself, with the following objectives:

• Destroy Iran’s nuclear capability;

• Decapitate the regime;

• Eliminate all radar installations, missile sites, military bases, troop concentrations and terrorist training facilities;

• Seize and protect the Iranian oil fields for the Iranian people;

• Install a moderate, democratic government.

An open alliance with Israel would be a significant force multiplier for our own military, which presently is stretched to the limit. Israel would bring to the table capabilities that—for largely political reasons—the United States lacks, such as freedom of action in dealing with Iran’s radical mullahs. And while an open alliance might inflame Islamic passions, the military lethality of our combined forces would surely strike fear in the hearts of our enemies.

Limiting our action to air attacks on known nuclear facilities, without taking down the regime, carries greater risk that we may miss any parallel, clandestine nuclear program Iran may have in the works. And it simply kicks the can down the road with respect to Iran’s continuing support of global terrorism. Moreover, regime change may actually lessen the pressure we are feeling from the so-called insurgents in Iraq, because Iran would be preoccupied with defending its home base.

What of Iran’s ally, Syria? We can hold them in place by threatening President Bashar Assad personally with massive air strikes unless he stays out of the fight, shuts down his border with Iraq once and for all, clamps down on terrorists and begins enacting democratic reforms. After the war, we can still hold his feet to the fire on these points and he will fold like a pup tent in a hurricane.

There is the little matter of a War Powers Resolution. Scholars have debated its constitutionality since the act’s inception, but presidents have avoided a test case thus far. With Alito about to tip the balance of the Supreme Court and the stakes so high, President Bush should act first and face the political heat later, taking the fight all the way up to the highest court, if necessary. If this prompts calls for impeachment—which the Democrats are pushing in any case—it would be well worth the risk.

The most problematic part of this bold strategy is establishing a democratic government in Iran to fill the vacuum. That is much easier said than done, but there is strong sentiment among the disenfranchised Iranian people against their radical Islamist government. It would require boots on the ground, but there we may actually be able to convince the Europeans to help provide post-war stability, even if they are unwilling to participate in the combat phase.

The bottom line is we have no choice but to act and act soon, before the terrorists running Iran get their hands on a nuke.

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