Facts are inconvenient things for presidents and prime ministers, as well as for Supreme Leaders. When you recognize a fact, it draws you to act on it or ignore it at your peril. The fact that two terrorist nations — Iran and North Korea — are building nuclear weapons is like two fuses. They were handed to us already lit, and we can either put them out or suffer the consequences when they burn to the end.
That the International Atomic Energy Agency has found traces of weapons-grade uranium near the Iranian facility at Natanz is no surprise. That Kim Jong-il is threatening to test a nuclear weapon — presumably in the open atmosphere — is consistent with his usual strategy of blackmail. If preemption — our principal strategy of dealing with terrorism — is to succeed, neither of these nations can be allowed to have nuclear weapons or the capacity to build them.
When Jimmy Carter turned a blind eye to the fundamentalist takeover of Iran, he allowed the establishment of a terrorist state dedicated to the destruction of Western freedoms. Iran makes no apologies or any credible effort to conceal its support for Hezbollah and its ilk. It is now admittedly harboring al Qaeda bigwigs. Iran is — in Michael Ledeen’s lexicon — the mother of Islamic terrorism. Iran is desperate to obtain nuclear weapons for the same reasons Saddam was. It now lacks the means to deter us from interfering in its terrorist operations, which implement its strategy to destroy the infidels and make the world a fundamentalist Islamist gulag.
Iran will donate nuclear weapons to terrorists as part of what the mullahs see is their holy duty. Saddam would have sold nukes to terrorists. Nuclear North Korea will do the same.
North Korea has been waving a red flag in front of us for months. When President Bush named it part of the Axis of Evil, he scared the bejeezus out of Kim. Kim may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but even he must now understand (having seen what happened to Saddam’s dreams of pan-Arabism) that Mr. Bush isn’t kidding. All Kim knows how to do is threaten, which he does regularly. With his bluster, Kim was able to put one over on Lil’ Billy and Madeleine the Short (which is no major accomplishment). But the same scam isn’t working on Dubya. In fact, the opposite is the case. Mr. Bush isn’t intimidated, or getting suckered into the “non-aggression pact” that Kim is demanding. Dubya is doing what he does best: doing, not talking about it.
For months, the U.S. Navy (with the help of some of our real allies such as Spain) has been stopping North Korean ships on the high seas. Our aim is to stop the NKs from delivering missiles and heroin to their customers abroad. (Scud missiles and heroin are North Korea’s only cash crops. It sold about $4 billion in Scuds over the past few years, many to Middle Eastern states). Recently, when the Spanish stopped a ship full of Scuds, and a few guys from SOCOM climbed aboard, they let the shipment go on to a “friendly” Middle Eastern country. I’ll bet dollars to donuts that the SEALs were carrying a couple of cordless drills. (Its amazing what you can do — in about ten minutes — to a bunch of missiles, given a good drill and a couple of quarter-inch bits.) Kim is scared by this quasi-blockade and he’s thinking there’s more coming. There must be.
Iran and North Korea pose the same question for us. We seem condemned to repeat the U.N. kabuki dance, asking for action, being ourselves chastised for our trouble, and then going ahead with what we have every right to do, and would be crazy not to. But with terrorist nations developing nuclear weapons, the question of time is central. How long can we afford to wait?
The answer is, not long. An atmospheric test of a nuclear weapon by North Korea would almost certainly bring radioactive waste directly to North America. According to the atmospheric model of the California Regional Weather Server, radioactive waste from the North Koreans’ test would ride a jet stream that would take it to Japan, most of Canada, and the northern U.S., from the Dakotas to New York, possibly as far south as Washington, D.C. Its effect could be minimal, or it could be almost as severe as a “dirty bomb” set off near one of our cities.
Promises mean nothing to Stalinist Kim Jong-il types, or to the terrorist mullahs in Tehran. Just think about the “non-aggression pact” Kim wants. Every treaty made with every Stalinist has been broken by the communist side. Usually, such treaties states have served only as a blueprint for the communists on how to violate them. Such a treaty with Kim would be an expensive joke. The liberals are now saying that we have to give North Korea incentives — money, food, oil — to come to the negotiation table to discuss nuclear disarmament. That is precisely the wrong formulation. Lil’ Billy tried that, and it caused the mess we are in now.
We need to tell Kim and Iran’s “Supreme Leader” Ayatollah Khameni the same thing. If they don’t disarm their nuclear programs and allow unfettered international inspections of any nuclear facilities — any facility we believe they have, wherever they may be — we will bomb those facilities into dust forthwith.
The Israelis — who have less reason to be patient than we — have signaled their intent to destroy the Iranian facilities if the Iranians are not otherwise disarmed. Israeli foreign minister Silvan Shalom labeled the Iranian program a grave threat to the whole world. Last week, the Washington Times reported that Israeli military sources said they already have an operational plan to take out the Natanz facility just like they did the Iraqi Osirak facility in 1981. It would be a good thing if they did, for it would relieve us of the burden. But they shouldn’t do it unless it is in partnership with us.
We should plan a strike on the North Korean nuclear plant at Yongbyon to be carried out as soon as we determine that the North Koreans are preparing for an atmospheric test. And our strike should be coordinated with a joint U.S.-Israeli strike on Natanz. Please, spare me the comments about goodwill and relations with the Arab nations and the U.N. Their love or hate for us will not change if we act, and they will do nothing to solve the problems themselves if we don’t.
America is paying a very heavy price for going into Iraq without the support of the U.N. asylum. It’s the same price we have paid when our freedom was threatened in both World Wars, and even in the Cold War. The price is high in blood and treasure. But to wait for North Korea to conduct atmospheric tests of a nuclear arsenal, or for Iran to start giving nuclear weapons to terrorists, is to wait too long.
Jed Babbin was a deputy undersecretary of defense in the first Bush administration, and now often appears as a talking warhead on MSNBC.