Last spring in New York, I was having a discussion about the Iraq War with a few liberal acquaintances, and they were frustrated by my dogged defense of President Bush’s decision to topple Saddam. “What would it take for you to admit that the Iraq War was a mistake?” one of them asked. I thought about it, and responded: “Iran getting nuclear weapons.”
Although it was not the only argument offered at the time of the invasion, the most compelling reason for regime change in Iraq was to eliminate the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction in the hands of an irrational actor with links to terrorist groups and hostility toward the United States. The most tragic potential consequence of the war in Iraq would be if the experience inhibited our ability to confront Iran, thus creating the precise type of threat we set out to eliminate.
This week, the Financial Times reported on an internal European Union document revealing “officials from the bloc are pessimistic about the chances of stopping Iran from getting enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb.” The report found that the progress of the nuclear program “has been held back by Tehran’s own technical shortcomings, rather than international pressure” and concluded that “the problems with Iran will not be resolved through economic sanctions alone”
At this point, it is becoming clearer that the only way to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons is through eventual military action, but the American public’s growing disenchantment with the war in Iraq makes such action far less likely.
Americans have been losing patience as the war in Iraq drags on and the costs in both blood and treasure mount. No matter what the ultimate outcome of President Bush’s surge plan, the reality is that the public is war weary. More importantly, because no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq, Americans are skeptical of any claims by the Bush administration that another country represents a looming threat to the United States.
Last Sunday, U.S. military officials showed reporters mortar shells, rocket-propelled grenades, and powerful bombs to make a convincing case that weapons being used by Shiite militias in Iraq were being supplied by Iran. However, to skeptics, the presentation echoed a similarly convincing address Colin Powell gave to the United Nations in 2003 about Iraq’s WMD programs, which turned out to be based on flawed intelligence.
In the buildup to the Iraq War, proponents of military intervention could point to the Sept. 11 attacks as a tragic reminder of what happens when America doesn’t take threats seriously. While this should still serve as an example, opponents of action in Iran can now point to the Iraq War as a cautionary tale of what happens when we go to war with another country without conclusive intellegence.
The reality is that the case against Iran is a strong one, and arguably much stronger than the case against Iraq in 2003. The State Department’s annual report on “Pattern’s of Global Terrorism” has long identified Iran as “the most active state sponsor of terrorism.” In addition to funding and supplying weapons to militias in Iraq, Iran has carried out assassinations and bombings against Iranian dissidents abroad, provided a safe haven for members of al Qaeda, funded terrorist groups such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah. Hezbollah, of course, was responsible for the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut that killed 241 American servicemen. In 1996, Iran orchestrated the Khobar Towers attack in Saudia Arabia, which killed 19 U.S. airmen.
Iran has been hostile to the United States since the founding of the Islamic regime in 1979 and the hostage crisis that followed. Today, its President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has made a name for himself by threatening to wipe Israel off of the map within the context of his country seeking nuclear weapons and he regularly gives speeches to crowds that chant “Death to America.” The nation reportedly has an army of 40,000 suicide bombers, revealing a thirst for martyrdom and an indifference to death that pokes a hole in the deterrent doctrine of mutual assured destruction.
All indications are that Iran is the real deal, but unfortunately, there is a danger that the terrorist regime will acquire nuclear weapons because the American public and world community won’t believe the Bush administration the next time it cries nuke.