The European "solution" to the threat of Iranian atomic bombs bids fair to join the "peace process" as the most boffo running gag in the history of show biz. Every few months, the elegantly dressed diplomatic wizards from London, Paris, and Berlin race across a continent or two to meet with Iranians dressed in turbans and gowns, and after some hours of alleged hard work, they emerge with a new agreement, just like their more numerous counterparts engaged in the peace negotiations. The main difference is that the peace-process deals seemed to last for several months, while the schemes hammered out with the mullahs rarely last more than a week or two. Otherwise, it's the same sort of vaudeville routine: a few laughs, with promises of more to come.
The latest Iranian shenanigan may have set a record for speed. On Monday they announced they had stopped the centrifuges that were enriching uranium. On Tuesday they asked for permission to run the centrifuges again. The Europeans sternly said no. The next scene will be at Turtle Bay, with brief interruptions for somewhat off-color remarks about sexual harassment at high levels (so to speak) of the United Nations.
The idea that "we don't need to do anything, because so-and-so will do our dirty work for us" has in fact been central to Western strategy in the Middle East for quite a while. The European posturing is the Western counterpart of the Iranian deception, a ritual dance designed to put a flimsy veil over the nakedness of the real activities. The old-fashioned name for this sort of thing is "appeasement," and was best described by Churchill, referring to Chamberlain's infamous acceptance of Hitler's conditions at Munich. Chamberlain had to choose between war and dishonor, opted for the latter, and got the former as well. That is now the likely fate of Blair, Chirac, and Schroeder.
They surely know this. Why do they accept it?
They accept it for many reasons, of which two seem paramount: They have huge financial interests tied up with the Iranian regime (billions of dollars worth of oil and gas contracts, plus other trade agreements, some already signed, others in the works); and Iran is the last place in the Middle East where they can play an active diplomatic role. This is particularly acute for France, which knows it will long be a pariah to free Iraqi governments, and views Iran as its last chance to thwart America's dominant role in the region. Sad to say, there is no evidence that the Europeans give a tinker's damn either about the destiny of the Iranian people, or about Iran's leading role in international terrorism, or about the Islamic Republic's joining the nuclear club. They are quite prepared to live with all that.
I think they expect Iran to "go nuclear" in the near future, at which point they will tell President Bush that there is no option but to accept the brutal facts -- the world's leading sponsor of terrorism in possession of atomic bombs and the missiles needed to deliver them on regional and European targets -- and "come to terms" with the mullahcracy. In other words, as the editorialists at the "Wall Street Journal" have wryly commented, the real goal of the negotiations is to restrain the United States, which, left to its own devices, might actually do something serious. If President Bush found a way to prevent Iran from acquiring atomic bombs, it might well wreck the Europeans' grand appeasement strategy.
There is certainly no risk that the United Nations will do anything serious, which is why the Europeans keep insisting that it is the only "legitimate" forum for any discussion of the Iranian nuclear menace.
At the same time, I rather suspect that the Europeans, like many of our own diplomats, would be secretly pleased if someone else -- that is to say, Israel -- were to "do something" to rid them of this problem. When they whisper that thought to themselves in the privacy of their own offices or the darkness of their own bedrooms, they mentally replay the Israeli bombing of the nuclear reactor in Osirak, Iraq, in 1981 -- an attack they publicly condemned and privately extolled. They would do the same tomorrow, sighing in relief as they tighten the noose around Israel's neck. Rarely has the metaphor of the scapegoat been so appropriate: the burden of our sins of omission loaded onto the Israelis, who are then sacrificed to atone for us all.
This may seem sheer wishful thinking, but wishful thinking is an important part of foreign policy. The idea that "we don't need to do anything, because so-and-so will do our dirty work for us" has in fact been central to Western strategy in the Middle East for quite a while. For example, it was practiced by Bush the Elder in 1991 at the end of Desert Storm, when the president openly mused that it would be simply wonderful if the Kurds and Shiites overthrew Saddam Hussein. They tried it; foolishly believing that if things went badly the United States would support them. But Bush the First was quite serious about his wishful thinking, and stood by as Saddam slaughtered them -- the scapegoats of the hour -- by the tens of thousands.
Similar wishful thinking is now at the heart of European -- and probably a good deal of American -- strategic thinking about the Iranian nuclear project. That it is a disgusting abdication of moral responsibility and a strategic blunder of potentially enormous magnitude is both obvious and irrelevant to the actual course of events.
I do not believe Israel will solve this problem for us, both because it is militarily very daunting and because successive Israeli governments have believed that Iran is too big a problem for them, and if it is to be solved, it will have to be solved by the United States and our allies. Whether that is true or not, I have long argued that Iran is the keystone of the terrorist edifice, and that we are doomed to confront it sooner or later, nuclear or not. Secretary of State Powell disagreed, and he was at pains recently to stress that American policy does not call for regime change in Tehran -- even though the president repeatedly called for it. And the president is right; regime change is the best way to deal with the nuclear threat and the best way to advance our cause in the war against the terror masters. We have a real chance to remove the terror regime in Tehran without any military action, but rather through political means, by supporting the Iranian democratic opposition. According to the regime itself, upwards of 70 percent of Iranians oppose the regime, want freedom, and look to us for political support. I believe they, like the Yugoslavs who opposed Milosevic and like the Ukrainians now demonstrating for freedom, are entitled to the support of the free world.
Even if you believe that a nuclear Iran is inevitable, is it not infinitely better to have those atomic bombs in the hands of pro-Western Iranians, chosen by their own people, than in the grip of fanatical theocratic tyrants dedicated to the destruction of the Western Satans?
And maybe it isn't inevitable. Faster, please.
Michael Ledeen, an NRO contributing editor, is most recently the author of "The War Against the Terror Masters." Ledeen is Resident Scholar in the Freedom Chair at the American Enterprise Institute.
Reprinted with permission from National Review Online