Stop­ping the bomb is what counts

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - Opin­ion by Wes­ley Pru­den

Raw num­bers don’t mean very much in the Mid­dle East, where run­ning into the streets to demon­strate, usu­ally but not al­ways against the Great Satan, is the na­tional sport. It’s more fun than evening pray­ers at the mosque.

What is im­pres­sive is the sim­ple fact of the out­pour­ing of pop­u­lar sen­ti­ment in Tehran. Lift­ing even a fin­ger to mock the in­dif­fer­ence and ar­ro­gance of the Supreme Leader Ay­a­tol­lah Ali Khamenei (Im­per­ti­nence Be Upon Him), or even Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ah­madine­jad (Palaver Be Upon Him), is ask­ing for a hard thump on the head, or worse. Usu­ally much worse.

So only a churl would rain on the pa­rade of the brave and the bold, but a re­al­ist can see the lim­its of the ro­man­tic view of what’s go­ing on in­side Iran. The most im­por­tant of the los­ing candidates, Mir Hos­sein Mousavi, was no doubt cheated of many votes — maybe enough to have been cheated out of the pres­i­dency. But as sad as that is, the greater dan­ger for Amer­ica and the West is that the boil­ing rage in the streets will di­vert at­ten­tion from what’s most cru­cial, most ur­gent and most im­por­tant. Stop­ping the Ira­nian bomb, not cor­rect­ing theft of an elec­tion, is what counts most.

In­dulging the ro­man­tic view of the rage di­verts at­ten­tion from Iran’s nu­clear sci­en­tists, who con­tinue to build cen­trifuges and en­rich ura­nium on the way to de­vel­op­ing a bomb, by most es­ti­mates a year away. This seems fi­nally to have occurred to Barack Obama, who imag­ines that his golden tongue is more than a match for any­thing the rad­i­cal Mus­lims can build to throw at Amer­ica and the West.

Mr. Obama first talked of the out­pour­ing of Ira­nian grief and wrath as if the demon­stra­tions were merely the work of an overly zeal­ous com­mu­nity or­ga­nizer. Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den, al­ways ea­ger to share his man­i­fold spec­u­la­tions and ap­pre­hen­sions, con­ceded “doubts” about the “of­fi­cial” re­sults, but said the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion just “wasn’t pre­pared to say” whether the elec­tion was free and fair. By the time Mr. Obama got home from a round of golf later that day, his ad­mi­ra­tion for “ro­bust de­bate” had faded to “trou­bled.” But he could muster only an im­plied apol­ogy for Pres­i­dent Eisen­hower’s med­dling in Iran more than a half-cen­tury ear­lier. No­body does apolo­gies bet­ter than the One.

Per­haps the crowds merely got a lit­tle more worked up than they should have by the “ro­bust de­bate.” Mr. Obama had some­times seen that hap­pen in Chicago, where he, too, was a com­mu­nity or­ga­nizer. But then he re­al­ized that not only had his flip­pant dis­missal of the demon­stra­tions an­gered nearly ev­ery­body at home, but he was miss­ing an op­por­tu­nity to help him­self. By keep­ing the fo­cus on the bru­tal sup­pres­sion of the demon­stra­tors, he could put off a lit­tle longer deal­ing with an Ira­nian bomb.

Jaw-jaw is al­ways prefer­able to war-war, as Win­ston Churchill fa­mously said, but it’s dif­fi­cult to imag­ine how even such a pro­lific talker as Mr. Obama can talk his way out of the dilemma in the Mid­dle East. He prob­a­bly can’t get tougher sanc­tions from the free­loaders at the U.N., for what­ever good that might do. The Rus­sians and the Chi­nese are ready to pro­tect Mr. Ah­madine­jad’s in­ter­ests there. He doesn’t want to praise democ­racy too much, lest it sound like a call for regime change. That would vin­di­cate Ge­orge W. Bush.

The rage in Tehran’s streets sug­gests that time may be run­ning out for a bru­tal regime, but that same clock is tick­ing for Barack Obama and what to do about the Ira­nian bomb. A reprise of the Cairo speech won’t work; the Mus­lims are mas­ters of end­less, empty rhetoric them­selves, and know how to fig­ure the dis­count on words. The con­se­quences of tak­ing out the Ira­nian nu­clear works, or en­abling Is­rael to do it for him, would be aw­ful, ex­ceeded only by the con­se­quences of al­low­ing the mul­lahs in Tehran to get their bomb. Then ev­ery­body in Ara­bia would want one. The Saudis would buy one from Pak­istan; cer­tain in­tel­li­gence sources say a deal is al­ready in the works to de­liver it once an Ira­nian bomb is in place. If the Shi’ites have a bomb, it’s only log­i­cal, as logic is mea­sured in that mis­er­able cor­ner of the world, for the Sun­nis to get one. Ev­ery thug­gish eighth-cen­tury theoc­racy must be fully armed.

The im­pli­ca­tions are fright­en­ing and eas­ily mea­sured, even by a timid White House. Mu­tu­ally as­sured de­struc­tion kept the Cold War con­fronta­tion be­tween Wash­ing­ton and Moscow in check, with one or two close calls, be­cause both East and West had some­thing to lose. The prospect of Sun­nis and Shi’ites shoot­ing it out with nu­clear weapons, with noth­ing to lose but each other, is not a happy one. Deal­ing with it will re­quire some­thing with more fire­power than a teleprompter.

Wes­ley Pru­den is ed­i­tor emer­i­tus of The Wash­ing­ton Times.

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