Special Report

Confronting Iran

Are we with Canada or against it? Does the Bush Doctrine still have teeth?

By 7.29.04

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NEW YORK -- It has come to this: The toughest line against Iran's thuggish mullahcracy is Canadian.

Following Sunday's sham trial of an Iranian intelligence agent accused of murdering a Canadian journalist -- a charge of which he was, in suspicious symmetry with the pre-trial verdict of the presiding judicial hardliners, found wholly innocent -- the lonely task of challenging the Islamic republic fell to Canadian Foreign Minister Pierre Pettigrew.

"Canada continues to insist that justice be done," Pettigrew announced, before calling for a new trial that would be "transparent" and "credible." Then, with the community of nations locked in unanimous silence, he strongly suggested Canada may consider more serious action. Stepped-up sanctions, perhaps. Possibly, Canadian relations with Tehran would be downgraded.

Pettigrew's tactful tut-tutting is, depressingly, the nearest thing to a threat the Iranian regime hears these days. And with Iraq hijacking headlines, the mullahs have taken advantage of their newfound anonymity: They've resumed assembling centrifuges for uranium enrichment, forging ahead with an illegal nuclear program that may be completed any day now; they've notched up the anti-American rhetoric and threatened to lay nuclear waste to U.S. allies like Israel; and they're challenging Saudi Arabia for the title of leading sponsor of global terrorism, subsidizing the Lebanese terror outfit Hezbollah to the tune of $80 million a year and actively ushering mujahedeen into Iraq to battle U.S. troops.

Why is Tehran enjoying such free rein? Simple: the Bush doctrine is not working. More accurately, it is not being allowed to work. Rather than taking up its instinctively hard-nosed approach to rogue states, the Bush administration has resigned itself to the soi-disant "multilateral" course favored by the European powers, most notably France and Germany, but also Britain. Working through the constraints of the IAEA, and the agency's chief enforcement tool of wrist-slapping resolutions, this multilateral coalition has been willing to believe that concerted diplomacy will stunt Iran's nuclear ambitions.

But if their effort has had any appreciable effect on Tehran's nuclear program, it has been to hasten its completion: At the end of June, for instance, Iranian officials had news for the agency's monitors: They had broken IAEA seals on their nuclear equipment and restarted the process of assembling and installing centrifuges. The subtext had a distinctively Teresa Heinz Kerry flavor: the international community could take its "multilateralism" and shove it.

The Bush doctrine is increasingly looking like the best answer to Iran's ongoing deception. And just what would the Bush doctrine do about Iran? The president has been clear: "When it comes our fight against terror will uphold the doctrine, either you're with us or against us; and any nation that thwarts our ability to rout terror out where it exists will be held to account, one way or the other."

Those words are particularly worth recalling today. Recent reports suggest that the al Qaeda splinter group, Ansar al-Islam, is reconvening in Iran, where its surviving 800 or so operatives found refuge after U.S. air strikes demolished their bases in northern Iraq. Then there are the troubling findings of 9-11 Commission. According to the commission's report, between October 2000 and February 2001, Iran's clerics helped eight to 10 of the hijackers of September 11 cross from Afghanistan into Iran without stamping their Saudi passports -- thereby allowing the future terrorists to pass without suspicion through U.S. Customs. And while it's still unclear that Tehran had prior knowledge of their intentions, it is almost certain that several al Qaeda suspects -- including Osama bin Laden's son Saad and al-Qaeda's security chief Saif Al-Adel, as well as eight others -- are currently residing in Iran under the aegis of the regime.

Thwarting our ability to rout terror? Check. Held to account? Not remotely.

AMAZINGLY, ALL THIS IS lost on the State Department's fellow travelers at New York's Council on Foreign Relations. Witnessing the abject failure of diplomacy to moderate Iran, the Council last week produced a policy report in which it called for…more diplomacy. Oddly titled "Iran: Time For A New Approach," the report insists that friction between the U.S. and Tehran is misguided. No sense confronting the mullahs, reckon authors Zbigniew Brzezinski and Suzanne Maloney. Instead, Iran ought to be appealed to as a "critical actor in the post-war evolution" of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Leave it to the Council on Foreign relations to turn out this sort of harebrained assessment. When sticks are sorely needed, they opt for an endless supply of carrots. Or, as Brzezinski prefers, "cautious, selected, probing, national interest-oriented engagement."

Infinitely more sensible would be a thorough reconsideration of the "engagement" approach to the growing Iranian threat. One alternative, recently pushed by Pentagon officials, is dragging Iran before the U.N. Security Council. Given that our French, German, and British counterparts seem to be growing exasperated with IAEA fecklessness (one can never be too sure on this point), this seems the most likely outcome. But even Security Council sanctions may be no deterrent against a regime determined to go nuclear. In that case, the U.S. should consider more forcible measures. Rumors abound that Israel is waiting for a green light to bomb Iranian nuclear facilities. If true, it is worth encouraging their efforts. Still another option is military pressure. Notwithstanding the circulating vapors that Iran is positively delighted by our troop presence in Iraq, the regime is clearly uneasy about a possible collision with American forces -- a match up that, however strained our forces, does not favor the mullahs. It's not unreasonable to demonstrate to the clerics that their nervousness is well-founded.

By now, it should be apparent that we need urgently to reconsider our strategy toward Iran. Bringing back the Bush doctrine's assertive approach to rogue states is a good place to start. Let's face it: With all credit to our neighbors to the north, relying on Canada to stand guard against the Iranian threat is no kind of policy.

Nonetheless, if Canada today represents the force of opposition to Iran's theocrats, we should ask ourselves this question: Are we with Canada, or against it?

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About the Author

Jacob Laksin is a writer in New York City.