Excellent Jay Bookman column - AJC

U.S. loses grip on Iran
Jay Bookman - Staff
Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Bush administration is pursuing two primary goals in its policy toward Iran. It wants to stop Iran from building a nuclear weapon, and it also hopes to oust Iran's anti-American and repressive Islamic theocracy, replacing it with a government that is both more democratic and more friendly to American interests.

Both goals are worthy. Both are possible, at least in the longer term.

Sometimes, though, those two goals conflict. And when they do, the goal of stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons ought to be the absolute and unquestioned priority.

But it is not. Too often, in fact, the opposite seems true. Too often, the Bush administration has acted as if regime change in Iran were more important than preventing its acquisition of nuclear weapons, and those misplaced priorities have had serious consequences.

Like repressive regimes anywhere, the Iranian government is concerned first and foremost with its survival. That's in part why it is apparently so intent on acquiring nuclear weapons --- it sees nukes as the best possible security against U.S. efforts to remove it from power. There's unfortunate wisdom in that policy.

The Iranians look at Pakistan, which prior to Sept. 11 played a major role in supporting al-Qaida and the Taliban government in Afghanistan, and they note that Pakistan's government suffered no consequences for that behavior.

Then they look at Iraq, which played no role whatsoever in the attacks of Sept. 11, and they note that Saddam Hussein has been deposed by American force and will soon face execution.

Why the two different fates? Why the two very different approaches by the Bush administration?

Pakistan has the bomb. Iraq didn't.

So, in return for ending their nuclear programs, both Iran and North Korea have sought public assurances from the Bush administration that it will not attack those countries or seek to undermine their governments. It's hard to know whether they are sincere in those offers, because in both cases, the administration has refused to even discuss such a possibility.

In fact, the administration has refused to negotiate one on one with either Iran or North Korea, fearing that such discussions would confer legitimacy upon governments that it would prefer to erase altogether.

Over the weekend, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reiterated that position, calling Iran "a troublemaker in the international system, a central banker of terrorism."

"Security assurances are not on the table," she said.

It is true, as Rice noted, that Iran has a history of supporting terrorism. It is also true that North Korea's regime is unmitigated evil, easily the most inhumane and repressive government on the face of the Earth.

It is also true, however, that even Ronald Reagan negotiated arms reductions with "The Evil Empire" itself, the Soviet Union, as well as with Communist China. Reagan understood the wisdom of trying to avoid disaster in the short term, so that in the long term the historic expansion of democracy has time enough to play itself out.

But that lesson has been lost on his successors.

--- Jay Bookman, for the editorial board (jbookman@ajc.com)

1 comment:

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