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September 6, 2006
Iran War Resolution Still Distant Option

The White House and senior Republican leadership in Congress have little enthusiasm for a war resolution at this time targeting Iran, the New York Sun reports this morning. After a suggestion by William Kristol that such a piece of legislation would put more pressure on Teheran to comply with the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, the Bush administration and Congress distanced themselves from any such talk:

As Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns prepares for a meeting with the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council in Berlin tomorrow to discuss imposing tough sanctions on Iran, neither the Bush administration nor some of the most hawkish Republicans in Congress are yet willing to consider military force if those sanctions fail to halt Iran's nuclear program.

The idea of putting a war resolution against the Islamic Republic to Congress was floated Monday on Fox News by the editor of the Weekly Standard, William Kristol. A resolution authorizing force against Iran for its defiance of a U.N. deadline to end uranium enrichment, as well as against Sudan for stepping up its military offensive in Darfur, would be a sufficiently "credible threat," Mr. Kristol said. "And that would be something, if you did it in the next week or two, that could shake up the election," he added.

Yesterday, however, the proposal received a lukewarm reaction at the White House and from two pro-Bush administration senators.

"As the president has emphasized throughout, we are seeking a diplomatic solution to the problem with the Iranian regime. The president could not have stated it more emphatically on numerous occasions," a spokesman for the National Security Council, Frederick Jones, said.

Another administration official who requested anonymity called the idea "ludicrous" and added, "That's not even a consideration."

Aides for Sam Brownback and Rick Santorum made it clear that they do not see the war option as a viable choice at the present. Both Senators promoted the escalation of support for internal democratization activists and hoped to build momentum for regime change from within Iran. Santorum had proposed legislation making those funds and resources more abundantly available two years ago, but the White House opposed it then, and Condoleezza Rice's overtures to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad this spring shelved such approaches while diplomacy played out.

As far as war planning goes, all people need to know is that Iran is not Iraq. Iraq consists of mostly flat and open country except in the north, where the Kurds made natural allies for our military operations. It's also less than a third of the size of Iran, which is dominated by mountainous terrain. Any war on Iran would take many times the number of American troops and would require a massive build-up in the region. It would hardly come as a surprise, and it would probably not outrace the Iranians in their quest for nuclear weapons.

At best, such a resolution would be a big bluff, providing authority for little more than air strikes that might damage Iran's nuclear program but would also likely turn their population against us. And the last thing we need in that region is to issue more empty threats.

The political situation in Iran is far different than it was in Iraq, and there is much greater hope that an internal movement could collapse the mullahcracy. Ahmadinejad and the Guardian Council do not exercise the same kind of oppression that Saddam Hussein did on Iraqis. The Iranians would not stand for it, and the mullahs have to tread carefully to maintain their power, which is why they stage elections for the Assembly and the presidency, even though they retain veto power over all that either do. (They may have forgotten this, as my post below notes.)

If the US could help Iranian democracy activists gain momentum, especially starting with the trade unions and university professors, the Iranians themselves could overthrow the mullahcracy and replace it with a much more rational government. Iran's history is not one of radicalism, with the exception of the last thirty years, but of educated, Western-looking sophisticates. They may not replace the mullahs with a carbon-copy Western democracy, but any rational form of representative government will make a huge difference.

In the end, nuclear weapons come as an end result of science and technology, and when a nation has enough of both, they can make WMD to their hearts' content. The real difference is in the nature of the government controlling the weapons. As long as the mullahs control Iran, we will never have security from Islamists regardless of whether they openly pursue nuclear weapons or not. We need to enable the vast and moderate Iranian population to take power back from the fanatics. It's the only means of assuring our security.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at September 6, 2006 5:52 AM

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