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In a strange coincidence, right after Senator Hillary Clinton criticized the Bush administration for its lack of unilateral, imperial action against Iran, the New York Times has suddenly developed an interest in the possibility of a pre-emptive attack on the Islamic Republic and its nuclear facilities. David Sanger picks up what Democrats hope to use as the party line against Republicans to prove their national-security mettle:
If diplomacy fails, does America have a military option? And what if it doesn't?
"It's a kind of nonsense statement to say there is no military solution to this," said W. Patrick Lang, the former head of Middle East intelligence at the Defense Intelligence Agency. "It may not be a desirable solution, but there is a military solution."
Mr. Lang was piercing to the heart of a conundrum the Bush administration recognizes: Iran could become a case study for pre-emptive military action against a gathering threat, under a policy Mr. Bush promulgated in 2002. But even if taking out Iran's facilities delay the day the country goes nuclear, it would alienate allies and probably make firm enemies out of many Iranians who have come to dislike their theocratic government. And Iran simply has too many ways of striking back, in the oil markets, in the Persian Gulf, through Hezbollah.
"Could we do it?" one administration official who was deeply involved in planning the Iraq invasion said recently. "Sure. Could we manage the aftermath? I doubt it."
Similar fears, he said, gave President Bill Clinton pause about launching a strike on North Korea in 1994. Later that year he reached an accord for a freeze on the North's nuclear production facilities. But in 2003 everything unfroze, and now the North, by C.I.A. estimates, has enough fuel for at least half a dozen bombs.
The Iranians took careful notes then, and here in Washington today the Korean experience underlies diplomacy-versus-force arguments that rarely take place on the record.
First, let's clear a major factual misrepresentation in Sanger's narrative. The North Koreans didn't "unfroze" in 2003; they announced that they had never been frozen and had already built a nuclear weapon. What should be obvious to everyone but a newspaper reporter, one does not "unfreeze" and overnight have the ability to refine fissile material into weaponized matter and construct a working nuclear device. The entire 1994 agreement had been a ruse under which they continued their nuclear efforts in a more clandestine manner. This development is one of the reasons why pre-emptive strikes on potential nuclear proliferators has gained such credibility.
Beyond the Times' inability to give an honest rendition of history is an interesting political question: why has the newspaper become so interested in covering pre-emption when the matter has not yet even come before the UN Security Council? After Hillary's speech at Princeton earlier this week, it seems a little more than coincidence that the Paper of Record suddenly finds pre-emption a valid diplomatic tactic for debate, especially given its vehement opposition to the doctrine entirely when it came to Iraq.
For that matter, one could say the same thing about the entire Democratic Party. Why did they not scold Clinton for this advice:
"I believe that we lost critical time in dealing with Iran because the White House chose to downplay the threats and to outsource the negotiations," Ms. Clinton said, according to a transcript of the speech published by The Daily Princetonian. "I don't believe you face threats like Iran or North Korea by outsourcing it to others and standing on the sidelines."
Since 2002 Britain, France and Germany have led talks meant to assure that Tehran's nuclear program would not give it the capacity to build weapons. The three countries last week declared that Iran's decision to resume nuclear research had brought the talks to an end, and, with the United States in support, asked that the matter be sent to the United Nations Security Council for possible action.
All we have heard from the Democrats and their media partners such as the NYT since 2003 is that the administration doesn't work in concert with our allies, and that our arrogance and unilateralism has isolated the United States. Now, suddenly, they want the electorate to believe that they've become more Catholic than the Pope in foreign policy by proclaiming that the Bush administration "outsourced" the Iranian negotiations by doing exactly what they demanded we do with Iraq -- a nation with whom we still were in a state of armed conflict, unlike Iran. And the Times provides this follow-up as a potential legitimization of military force against Iran without even taking the issue to the UN, a step Democrats and the NYT demanded on Iraq and one which held up military operations five months, allowing Saddam to prepare for the invasion and possibly to move the WMD we sought.
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