Diplomats say the darnedest things. Take our secretary of state, Hillary Clinton. This week, she blurted out the following about America's Iran policy: "I don't think anyone can doubt that our outreach has produced very little in terms of any kind of a positive response from the Iranians."
Whether she was criticizing the ayatollahs or the Obamas is hard to tell--Mrs. Clinton reportedly dislikes both groups intensely--but it is undeniable that she has put her finger on something. The United States, unfortunately, has had little influence over the Iranian leadership this year. Obama's campaign pledge to meet the world's top despots, including the ones dwelling in Tehran, has not in fact generated good will in Iran's abhorrent theocracy.
No one can blame the new president for wanting to extend the proverbial "open hand," but now that he has received the "clenched fist" in response, the American leader needs to change course--and fast.
Events looked grim at the end of last month when the French talked about Iran's "last chance." Now everything looks worse. Last week, for instance, we heard a report that Iranian technicians have been testing a "neutron initiator," a device that sets off a nuclear warhead. There are no peaceful uses for such a gizmo.
And Iran is getting close to making a bomb. This week, the chief of Israeli intelligence, whose group has consistently produced the best assessments of Iran's weapons program, disclosed that the regime is close to a "technological breakthrough." The clerics, should they decide to go for broke, are only nine months from possessing the ultimate weapon in history. Maybe they do already, especially if they have bought fissile material on the nuclear black market as persistent rumors indicate.
The Iranians, characteristically, are not doing anything to relieve the concerns of the international community. They first said all their testing is for peaceful purposes . . . and then this week they fired off a missile, the Sajjil-2.
What was the response from the leader of the free world? The White House said the missile test undermines trust in Iran. That was not much more inspiring than what British Prime Minister Gordon Brown had to say. He intoned: "We will treat this with the seriousness it deserves."
What response does this test deserve? More than it is getting. The ability to deliver a nuclear weapon thousands of miles downrange--the Sajjil-2, with a range of 1,200 miles, can hit targets in Israel and southeastern Europe--poses an existential threat to the international system. Iran is building missiles whose only conceivable payload is a nuclear warhead, yet Washington is full of analysts who heroically find the bright side of all the adverse developments. American proliferation expert Joseph Cirincione, for example, said on CNN that it was possible the Iranians tested their missile because they were merely putting on "a show of strength before they make a concession."
It's much more likely that they were perfecting their missile so they can land a payload in Tel Aviv or Athens, something they can do today. It's just a matter of years before the theocracy can destroy Rome, Paris, London and Washington as well. Perhaps the Italians, French and English can rest easy, but not the Americans because the mullahs have promised to "bake" the United States along with Israel--"Sajjil," by the way, is translated as "baked clay."
Many argue we can deter the Iranians because we deterred the Soviets. Perhaps that will prove to be true, but at this moment it would be imprudent to assume that is the case. After all, we should take Iranian leaders, who have repeated for years that they intend to kill us, at their word.
Barak is correct, but only in the narrowest sense. The White House, if it showed substantially more vigor and strength, could disarm Iran without the use of force. Yet President Obama has shown no inclination to try more coercive measures, and, as his secretary of state has noted, his policies have not worked. The Chinese have emerged in the last month as Iran's principal backer, and the American leader has been unwilling to confront Beijing on this or other proliferation issues. We are at one of those times when what is necessary is not, in the American capital, considered practical.
That means, unless Obama changes course, Iran will get the bomb. And once the ferociously aggressive and deeply insecure clerics put their hands on an atomic weapon, it is virtually certain the world will never be the same. Almost all the assumptions we make about geopolitics today could--and probably will--become obsolete.
Gordon G. Chang is the author of The Coming Collapse of China.He writes a weekly column for Forbes.
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