Only a crazy person would spend months and years alternately rubbing a lamp and standing back to make way for the appearance of the duly extradited genie. After three years of trying to talk Iran out of its nuclear weapons program, Britain, France and Germany have stopped rubbing their diplomatic lamp. That is not to say they — and we — aren’t crazy because we’re now aiding and abetting the latest lamp-rubbing exercise: taking Iran before the UN Security Council. One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over in the same way and expecting different results. By that criterion, America is again the host at the Mad Hatter’s tea party.
The avowed purpose of taking Iran before the Security Council is to debate a motion for economic and diplomatic sanctions against it for violating its obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which it signed while ruled by the Shah. It is at best highly doubtful that any sanctions measure that could modify Tehran’s behavior would be passed, given the dependency of so many nations on Iranian oil. But even if sanctions were passed, what makes anyone believe they would be enforced? Given the UN’s track record on Iraq — seventeen table-pounding measures demanding compliance by Saddam, none of which was enforced or even complied with by the Security Council’s own members — why should anyone believe UN action on Iran would be more severe or taken any more seriously? We simply can’t.
The UN, in so many ways, resembles Hollywood. Divorced from reality as only entertainers can be, the UN issues remakes of old diplomatic performances like Hollywood remakes old movies. The first UN Middle Eastern drama was Suez, in 1956, starring Dwight Eisenhower whose unsubtle message to Europe and Israel saved the UN from much-deserved obscurity. Since then the remakes have included the 1975 “Zionism is racism” resolution starring Idi Amin (best opposing actor honors going to Pat Moynihan in a futile performance), and the 2002 Iraq resolutions starring Dubya, Kofi and Dominique de Villepin. Now, we are collaborating in a remake of the 2002 debacle with repeat performances by Kofi, Dominique and Bad Vlad Putin and starring Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The only other change in the cast is the addition of Hu Jintao as Putin’s funny sidekick.
We know how this is script plays out. There will be endless conferences among the Brits, French, Germans and Americans to come up with a resolution that might, just might, pass and still say something other than “pretty please” to Ahmadinejad. When the resolution is finally introduced, it will be referred to a special “working group” of Security Council members — a.k.a. the five veto holders plus a few added helpers chosen from debuting UN gorgeous starlets such as Japan and India — who will spend many months debating its terms and seeking something that Ahmadinejad will accept. When that fails, the vetoistas will undertake more negotiations among themselves, and have open debates on proposals while several of them — notably Russia and France — negotiate their own compromises with Iran, confusing and diffusing the whole idea of stopping Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
While that subplot plays out, the Russians will continue to help Iran build and harden its nuclear facilities, selling it the TOR M-1 surface to air missile system that effectively bars any air attack against Iranian nuclear facilities by any aircraft except American B-2 and F-117 stealth aircraft. (The Russians have already sold about 30 of the TOR M-1s to Iran, and deliveries will soon begin if they haven’t already. TOR M-1 features a phased array radar and SA-15 missiles mounted on a tracked vehicle, capable of engaging multiple targets at once, including missiles, precision-guided bombs as well as aircraft, and it can shoot on the move.) Some, including Chinese client-state North Korea, will continue to sell ballistic missiles and other arms to Iran. And everyone (other than the U.S.), especially China, will buy as much Iranian oil as they can.
The UN script will require that the debate in the Security Council be suspended and revived, the object being to forestall any action until after the U.S. 2008 presidential election in the hope that the new president will be more reasonable — i.e., sufficiently French — to let the matter drag on long enough for Iran to arm itself with nuclear weapons. The Iranians will play the part of Saddam better than he did. They will allow UN inspectors in and allow them to inspect everything that points to nuclear power generation and not nuclear weapons. Nobel laureate and IAEA chief Mohammed el-Baradei will report, periodically and with great drama, about tense negotiations on inspection procedures and IAEA’s inability to find any damning evidence that Iran is achieving nuclear arms. Kofi Annan, in his last act as Secretary General, will go to Tehran later this year to negotiate a new deal for inspections, and proclaim Ahmadinejad a “man I can deal with.” France, too, will rededicate itself to ensuring NATO takes no action, and Germany’s new chancellor — the charming Angela Merkel — will oppose any action that might disturb the stability of the region.
Brent Scowcroft will explain that though Iran is radical, it will act in its own enlightened self-interest, and never ever nuke anyone. The new Israeli government will be unable to form itself around any action sufficient to stop Iran, and so the world will proclaim that responsibility for keeping the peace will be America’s and America’s alone. And, to be sure, keeping the peace and maintaining the “stability” of the Middle East will become the goal replacing the idea of preventing Iran from threatening the world with the apocalyptic vision of its president. And so it will go, on and on, into the future. Nations will buy Iranian oil, its president will say the most bellicose things to call forth the Twelfth Imam and the Islamic version of Judgment Day and no one will take him at his word. Except, perhaps, Israel and the United States.
The end of the script is still unwritten, because no one knows how long the U.S. and Israel will endure the endless diplomatic standoffs that the UN and Iran will create. We will be sunk in a diplomatic quagmire that will make the 2002-2003 UN debate on Iraq seem a decisive time for the world.
We don’t know how long it will be before Iran has nuclear warheads and the ability to mate them to missiles to achieve a deliverable nuclear weapon. It may be six months from now, or two years. In any event, the time it will take to extract ourselves from the UN quagmire will be longer than it takes Iran to reach its goal. And when it does, the world will be safe only for Islamic terrorism. The latest remake of the Turtle Bay Mideast drama will end with a bang, not a whimper. Ahmadinejad would like to reprise the role Slim Pickens played in Dr. Strangelove. It would suit him right down to the ground.
TAS contributing editor Jed Babbin is the author of Inside the Asylum: Why the UN and Old Europe Are Worse Than You Think (Regnery, 2004).