Special Report

Splitting Hairs (and Atoms)

A Bush turnabout on Iran is hitting McCain in the solar appendix.

By 7.21.08

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Then there's that classic gag about the hypochondriac. He wakes up one morning clutching his left side, screaming that he is in pain and he must have appendicitis.

"Don't be silly, honey," his wife says reassuringly. "The appendix is on the right side of the body."

"No wonder I am in such pain. My appendix is on the wrong side of my body!"

There is always a temptation in politics to eliminate real problems by simply redefining the terms. When the officeholder is accused of abandoning his stated principles, he can always substitute some new terminology that supposedly distinguishes this unique situation. The latest example of this is the United States sending a State Department envoy to sit in on talks between European countries and Iran concerning the latter's nuclear program. This was something the Bush administration had repeatedly assured us would not happen.

Oh, no, we would never negotiate with those ruffians until they first comply with existing UN resolutions. They must stop enriching uranium first, ask questions later. No namby-pamby appeasement for us manly Texans, unlike that leftwing soft-on-dictators wannabe, Obama. As for our guy showing up at these European talks, he is there not as a participant but as an "observer."

They would have us believe that if the Iranian representative turns to our fellow with a proposal, he will politely beg off for lack of authorization. They would like to sell us on the idea that if one of the senior European negotiators asks what the Americans think about this or that, our emissary will apologetically point to his "Just Browsing" lapel pin. If anyone is taken in by this facade, he should be taken out to the woodshed. C'mon.

THE LEAST OF OUR PROBLEMS with this turnabout is the political fallout from implying that Obama was right all along. We should pop over now and then for a coffee klatsch to see if we can promote world peace in a spirit of congeniality. Why should we be the only meanies on the block? Well, apparently Obama's argument has persuaded the White House, thus leaving John McCain out on an already amputated limb.

The bigger concern is the blow to our ability to attack if necessary. Until now there was a prevailing sense that America retained the option to eliminate the offending facilities by firepower if necessary. This threat has been shrinking in direct proportion to the duration of our military stay in Iraq. With our forces so attenuated, and embarrassed by having to linger year after year to put out fires, there is little there to strike fear into the Iranian heart.

Had Bush kept a clean slate to hand off to McCain, the Iranian complacency would have been delivered a jolt. This new kid on the block just might knock their block off. He wants to show himself as tough and they would be a juicy target. However, the ability of a new administration to take aggressive action is severely compromised once a negotiating track is said to be active. The Iranians could stall to buy all the time they need to finish their dirty work, all while claiming to have been open to a reasonable settlement within the existing "process."

THIS ODD confluence of events has left us in quite a bind. The original policy had been to intimidate Iran by striking Iraq. Instead that adventure has tarred as half-bully half-incompetent, muting our thunder. Iran is now in the position of the Israelite whom Moses admonished to stop fighting with his friend. "What, are you saying you will kill me like you did the Egyptian?" (Exodus 2:13,14)

The world is something of a dangerous place at all times. If Iran develops nuclear weaponry, it will turn into a full-time arena of clear and present danger. The catchphrase is to call such a scenario intolerable, but right now we are being treated to a whole mess of tolerance. I would ask for a President who means what he says and says what he means, but I fear that might wind up being Obama. I don't cotton to this situation where both sides are playing chicken with each other and being chicken abroad. They are rewriting the book and it may lead to a really painful appendix.

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About the Author

Jay D. Homnick, commentator and humorist, is a frequent contributor to The American Spectator.