November 1, 2007

Recipe For Proliferation? EU-3, Then Repeat

Eli Lake offers a recap of the Democratic approach to Iran, calling it the "ask nicely" approach. Leading Democrats in Congress and in the presidential primaries have latched onto the word "diplomacy" as if it has never been tried with Teheran. They offer no reason to hope that another round of sweet talk alone would have any more success than previous attempts:

Finally, at least for Democrats who say they are nominally interested in halting the Mullah quest for nukes, there is the Mohammed ElBaradei option. Perhaps, the time is ripe, as the director general of the International Atomic Energy told CNN on Sunday, for "creative diplomacy." Time to lower the temperature and accept for now Iran's enrichment of uranium in exchange for the cooperation they promised back in 2003.

Senator Boxer, a Democrat from California, is intrigued. She said everyone wants to avoid a confrontation with Iran. "We don't want to go that way. Let's calm down the rhetoric. Let's work through diplomacy. There's lots of back channels. I think ElBaradei was right when he said, look at North Korea."

The problem with the approach favored by what might be called the "Ask Nicely Democrats," is that it runs the risk of — in the words of the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan — "defining deviancy down." According to the commander of our troops in Iraq, David Petraeus, Iran's Quds Force has orchestrated the murder of our soldiers and funded and armed the worst terrorists in the country. As I reported in July, the Iranians host senior Al Qaeda leaders who meet regularly in the eastern part of the country, in a tactical alliance with whom they share a common foe today. In addition to all of this, Tehran has snubbed numerous offers from the west to obtain nuclear fuel in exchange for real guarantees they will not build nuclear weapons.

Had it not been for the invasion of Iraq, politicians of both parties would call this kind of behavior what it is: acts of war. As it stands, six years into what the president insists is a war on terrorism, we can't bring ourselves even to speak plainly about our enemies.

The approach has more problems than that -- it also has a history of failure. Over the last few years, the Bush administration allowed our European partners to take the lead in efforts to stop Iran's nuclear program. This made sense, at least for a start, as Britain, Germany, and France all had commercial and diplomatic ties with the Iranians, and had more leverage. Democrats at the time derisively referred to this as "outsourcing" the issue, a strange complaint given their accusations of unilateralism against the White House on Iraq.

Talks between Teheran and the EU-3 went exactly nowhere for more than two years. They offered domestic nuclear power solutions for the Iranians that avoided the use of breeder reactors and centrifuge systems, which the Iranians rejected. The Europeans had Vladimir Putin offer to build and run the nuclear power plants while allowing Russia to control the fuel, and the Iranians stalled for months before rejecting that offer as well. The US publicly offered to restart diplomatic contacts and remove economic sanctions if the Iranians settled the issue with the EU-3, and Teheran shrugged.

Faced with that record of intransigence and obstinacy, the EU-3 and the US finally went to the UN for action. It took months before the Security Council would impose any kind of penalty against the mullahs, finally agreeing to a weak set of economic sanctions at first. When Iran stopped cooperating with the IAEA, the UNSC upped the ante on sanctions. Iran has not budged since, nor do they give any sign that they intend to stop developing nuclear fuel with a potential use in weapons.

Barbara Boxer and her clueless colleagues may want to pretend that asking nicely has not yet been tried, but the EU-3 tried it for years. The Iranians will not be dissuaded by sweet nothings whispered in their ears. Bribes and payoffs have been refused. It will take tenacity and tough sanctions that strike at the base of the mullah's power to get their attention, if the world wants to avoid war. A failure to recognize the meaning of the process failures in the recent past will bring us to war faster than any sanctions regime could possibly manage.


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