Tehran has been told it will pay a price for killing Americans, but it never has.
The traveling Mahmoud Ahmadinejad circus made for great political theater this week, but the comedy shouldn't detract from its brazen underlying message: The Iranian President believes that the world lacks the will to stop Iran from pursuing its nuclear program, and that the U.S. also can't stop his country from killing GIs in Iraq. The question is what President Bush intends to do about this in his remaining 16 months in office.
Over the last five years, Mr. Bush has issued multiple and sundry warnings to Iran. In early 2002, he cautioned Iran that "if they in any way, shape or form try to destabilize the [Afghan] government, the coalition will deal with them, in diplomatic ways initially." In mid-2003, following revelations about the extent of Iran's secret nuclear programs, he insisted the U.S. "will not tolerate the construction of a nuclear weapon."
In January of this year, as evidence mounted that Iran was supplying sophisticated, armor-penetrating munitions to Shiite militias in Iraq, Mr. Bush was tougher still: "We will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq."
In February, he added that "I can speak with certainty that the Qods Force, a part of the Iranian government, has provided these sophisticated IEDs that have harmed our troops." And as recently as this month's TV speech on Iraq, the President alerted Americans to the "destructive ambitions of Iran" and warned the mullahs that their efforts to "undermine [Iraq's] government must stop."
We belabor this rhetorical record because it so clearly contrasts with how little the Administration has done about it. As with Syria, the Bush Administration has repeatedly told Iran that it would have to pay a price for its hostile behavior while in the end demanding no such price. This undermines U.S. diplomacy, but in the case of GIs in Iraq it is worse: It means the Commander in Chief is letting an enemy kill Americans with impunity. And the Iranians have got the message: Mr. Ahmadinejad felt confident enough to declare this week at the U.N. that the issue of its nuclear program was "closed."
From 2003 to 2005, Mr. Bush outsourced his Iran policy to France, Germany and Britain, which wooed Tehran with trade concessions, security guarantees and promises of technical assistance. Iran rejected those offers, as it did a Russian proposal to enrich uranium on its own soil--but not without drawing out talks as long as possible.
The Administration finally succeeded in having Iran's Non-Proliferation Treaty violations referred to the U.N. Security Council in 2006, though by then Iran had mastered the technology of enriching uranium in a "cascade" of centrifuges. Many nuclear analysts consider this the point of no return toward a bomb. Intelligence reports also suggested that Iran had designs for casting uranium into hemispherical shapes--essential for making a bomb--and for marrying a nuclear warhead to a ballistic missile.
So far there have been two "binding" U.N. resolutions on Iran's nuclear project, both notable mainly for their weakness. When Resolution 1747 passed this March, U.S. officials said the Security Council would move quickly to the next round. Instead, it has done nothing, even as Iran has moved to install industrial-scale (3,000-plus centrifuge) enrichment facilities.
The U.S. has also exerted some financial pressure on Iran, in part by pressing European companies to scale back their investments. This is useful, but only on the margins. The U.S. is now talking with France and others on developing sanctions outside the U.N., to avoid a Russian or Chinese veto. But these sanctions will apparently not include an embargo on Iran's imports of refined gasoline, which account for 40% of its domestic consumption.
The failure to act is similar regarding Iran's support for terror in Iraq. As early as August 2003, Paul Bremer noted Iran's "irresponsible conduct" in Iraq's affairs. In 2005, even Time magazine was reporting "Inside Iran's Secret War for Iraq." It was not until last summer that the U.S. began taking any kind of action against Iranian operatives in Iraq, most of them working under diplomatic cover.
This month U.S. forces arrested Mahmudi Farhadi, whose job description, according to the Iranian government, is head of "cross-border commercial transactions" for the western Iranian province of Kermanshah. Translation: Mr. Farhadi smuggles IEDs into Iraq. Wire reports say Mr. Farhadi's arrest is only the third such action against Iranian nationals this year.
According to information from an Iranian opposition group with a record of being right, Iran's Qods (Jerusalem) Force operates under the aegis of the Al-Najaf Al-Ashraf Al-Saqafieh Establishment, based in Najaf and run by Iranian mullah Hamid Hosseini. Arms deliveries are organized by a group called the "Headquarters for Reconstruction of Iraq's Holy Sites." Iran orchestrates these efforts from the Fajr Base, in the Iranian city of Ahwaz.
Administration officials tell us that Iranian-backed militias using Iranian-supplied arms now account for 70% of U.S. casualties in Iraq. U.S. forces also recently intercepted a shipment of shaped explosive devices that Iran was smuggling to insurgents in Afghanistan. This is at least the third time such shipments have been seized by coalition forces. Dan McNeill, NATO's senior commander in Kabul, notes that "it would be hard for me to imagine that they come into Afghanistan without the knowledge of at least the military in Iran."
The Administration seemed prepared last month to name the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (which runs the Qods Force) as a terrorist organization, a designation that would be amply justified. But once again, the State Department is equivocating amid Russian, Chinese and European opposition.
Meanwhile, on the nuclear issue, Mr. Ahmadinejad declared this week that he'll no longer cooperate with the U.N. Security Council, but only with Mohamed ElBaradei, the accommodating Egyptian who runs the U.N. nuclear agency. Our readers will recall that former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton warned Mr. Bush about Mr. ElBaradei and tried to block his wish for a third term. But Mr. Bush sided with State Department officials who supported Mr. ElBaradei, and now the U.S. has to live with his pro-Iranian machinations.
The Bush Presidency is running out of time to act if it wants to stop Iran from gaining a bomb. With GIs fighting and dying in Iraq, Mr. Bush also owes it to them not to allow enemy sanctuaries or weapons pipelines from Iran. If the President believes half of what he and his Administration have said about Iran's behavior, he has an obligation to do whatever it takes to stop it.