Why call it anything else? It has been, and is, appeasement. We and our allies have known for nearly 20 years that Iran was developing nuclear weapons capability. At least three American Administrations have huffed and puffed and threatened to blow their (nuclear development) house down with tough (but not too tough) sanctions. The bottom line, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which last week confirmed what everyone already knew, is that Iran, today, has produced enough weapon-grade material to produce about four nuclear bombs. By definition, American foreign policy designed to keep Iran out of the nuclear club has failed…quite miserably.
Ineffective American policy with respect to Iran has a long pedigree and has been the handiwork of a cast of political luminaries from both political parties. Our efforts to halt the development of nuclear capability by a genuine terrorist-supporting enemy such as Iran have been managed by a succession of equal opportunity bunglers.
Stopping a fanatical theocracy such as Iran would have never been easy. But we don’t elect President’s to make the easy decisions. They earn their stripes and, more importantly, the respect of the world, when they lead in breathtakingly difficult crises.
President Jimmy Carter was the first American President to blink in the face of Iranian aggression when Khomeini and his Mullahs condoned and then supported an act of war against the United States in 1979. Arguably, it was a 444-day war, which was humiliating for America and highly instructive for Iran. It could and should have been stopped by the feckless President Carter when the so‑called students invaded our Embassy, but Carter, rivaling some of history’s more grand appeasers, failed to act.
And if Iran was surprised by America’s feeble response to the hostage crisis, they were surely astounded when, barely four years later, American troops were pulled out of Lebanon by President Reagan following the slaughter of 241 marines by a Hezbollah suicide bomber in an operation the funding and training for which was provided by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps. Then on the heels of the massacre in Lebanon, came the Iran-Contra imbroglio, in which senior officials in the Reagan White House concocted a well intentioned, but ill-fated scheme, to sell arms to Iran in an effort to secure the release of American hostages in Beirut.
President Clinton finally did impose serious sanctions when he embargoed any American commercial or financial dealings with Iran, but that wasn’t until 1995. The following year, Congress got into the act, flexing a somewhat flaccid muscle with the passage of the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act, which provided that any company that invested over $20 million for the development of petroleum resources in Iran would have two of seven possible penalties imposed: They were: denial of Export-Import Bank assistance; denial of export licenses for exports to the violating company; prohibition on loans or credits from U.S. financial institutions of over $10 million in any 12-month period; prohibition on designation as a primary dealer for U.S. government debt instruments; prohibition on serving as an agent of the United States or as a repository for U.S. government funds; denial of U.S. government procurement opportunities; and a ban on all or some imports of the violating company.
Heaven forbid we might have imposed all seven possible penalties, or have the penalties apply to all companies engaging in any commerce with Iran.
Then, in an effort to curry favor with newly elected President Mohammad Khatami, we decided to ease sanctions on Iran by exempting pharmaceuticals, medical equipment and, get this, caviar and Persian rugs. Wow, we were really getting tough on Iran.
Small wonder then that by the time Ahmadinejad was elected President, the Mullahs saw little to fear from the United States. They, quite literally, had gotten away with murder time and time again. Ahmadinejad quickly moved to restart Iran’s uranium enrichment program and, in 2006, the IAEA reported to the UN Security Council that Iran was ignoring the nuclear safeguards agreement it had entered into with the EU3 (France, Germany and Great Britain). Meanwhile in December 2007, in an astonishing display of incompetence, our own intelligence agencies reported that Iran had ceased its attempts to build a nuclear bomb in 2003. This was barely a year after Iranian dissidents announced that Iran had launched a secret nuclear fuel-production facility. The UN’s IAEA was reporting that Iran was not complying with its agreements with the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty at the very time our intelligence people said Iran had abandoned its nuclear weapons program.
In the spring of 2009 President Obama called for engagement with Iran “that is honest and grounded in mutual respect,” and extended his famous outstretched hand, but five months later we, France and Great Britain had to admit that Iran had been secretly developing uranium enrichment facilities at Qom. Under mounting pressure, Iran then agreed “to consider” shipping most of its enriched uranium to Russia, an agreement they abandoned as soon as tensions cooled.
Given our response over the last three decades to Iran’s complicity in the taking of the American embassy in Tehran and the capture of its personnel, the murder of hundreds of Americans in Lebanon and in Saudi Arabia, its declared desire to see an American ally, Israel, wiped off the face of the earth, its support of terrorism around the world and its more recent plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador in a crowded Washington restaurant, is it any wonder that they have felt few, if any, qualms about developing nuclear weapons.
Looking back over this litany of horrors, one can only imagine their incredulity at President Obama’s implied willingness during the last Presidential campaign to have tea and crumpets with Ahmadinejad, or our utter silence when brave Iranians protested in the streets of Tehran to Ahmadinejad’s fraudulent election, or more recently, Republican primary candidate Ron Paul’s suggestion that we extend a hand of friendship to Iran.
It is no coincidence that, in the face of these half measures and these not-very-tough sanctions that Iran has rushed headlong into the development of nuclear weapons capability.
It seems to us that we have seen years of appeasement disguised as well-reasoned policy, and we are now seeing the high cost of that appeasement. Professor Uzi Even, of Tel Aviv University, who is, perhaps, Israel’s leading authority on Iran’s nuclear program says Iran already has the material to conduct a nuclear test.
“They could explode a device [underground] tomorrow in my opinion,” he said in an interview last week. While he says that arming a missile with a nuclear warhead could take between two and three years, the proverbial horse is out of the barn. Had our European allies and we imposed a full-court sanctions regimen, including an embargo on the supply of gasoline, when Iran and her proxies first began kidnapping and murdering Americans, perhaps they would have thought twice about embarking on a nuclear weapons program. But we have given them little reason to think twice about embarking on such a dangerous course of action. What seemed too extreme to successive American administrations pales in comparison to the cost of what we now face.
Iran is the first nation that is developing nuclear weapons not because of an armed threat from an historic enemy, but, instead, because of fanatical religious ideology, which makes them even more dangerous. Former Iranian President and politically powerful strongman Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani publically warned “Iran could wipe Israel off the map and accept the human consequences to its own population because it would still survive.”
There seem to be few options left to us. The military option by us or by Israel has become very complicated and problematic. Experts say bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities might set their program back by 18 months or so, and all but guarantee that they would then, most certainly, go the extra step from being nuclear capable to building nuclear weapons. Any military action would, today, most certainly interrupt the flow of oil from the Middle East and seriously risk crippling the world economy. Sadly, Iran seems to hold most of the cards now. Even more sadly, they are cards we dealt to them by years of totally ineffective foreign policy toward the mullahs. This, then, is the high cost of appeasement.