- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 16, 2006

Happy Easter. Happy Passover. But, if you’re like the president of Iran and believe in the coming of the “12th imam,” your happy holiday may be just around the corner, too.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said to consider himself the designated deputy of the so-called “hidden Imam,” held a press conference this week — against a backdrop of doves fluttering round an atom and accompanied by dancers in orange decontamination suits doing choreographed uranium-brandishing. It looked like that Bollywood finale of “The 40-Year Old Virgin” where they all pranced around to “This Is The Dawning Of The Age Of Aquarius.”

As it happens, although he dresses like Steve Carell’s 40-year-old virgin, the Iranian president is, in fact, a 40-year-old nuclear virgin, and he was holding a press conference to announce he was ready to change that. “Iran,” he said, “has joined the group of countries which have nuclear technology” — i.e., this is the dawning of the age of a scary us. “Our enemies cannot do a damned thing,” he crowed, as an appreciative audience chanted “Death to America!”

The reaction of the international community was swift and ferocious. The White House said Iran “was moving in the wrong direction.” This may have been a reference to the dancers. A simple Radio City kickline would have been better. The British Foreign Office said it was “not helpful.” This may have been a reference to the doves round the atom.

You know what’s great fun to do if you’re on, say, a flight from Chicago to New York and you’re getting a little bored? Why not play being Mr. Ahmadinejad? Stand up and yell in a loud voice, “I’ve got a bomb.” Next thing you know the air marshal will be telling people, “It’s OK, folks. Nothing to worry about. He hasn’t got a bomb.” And then the second marshal would say, “And even if he did have a bomb it’s highly unlikely he’d ever use it.” And then you threaten to kill the two Jews in row 12 and the stewardess says, “Relax, everyone. That’s just a harmless rhetorical flourish.” And then a group of passengers in rows four to seven point out, “Yes, but it’s entirely reasonable of him to have a bomb given the threatening behavior of the marshals and the cabin crew.”

That’s how it goes with the Iranians. The more they claim they’ve gone nuclear, the more U.S. intelligence experts — whoops, where are my quote marks? — the more US intelligence “experts” insist no, no, it won’t be for another 10 years yet. The more they conclusively demonstrate their noncompliance with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the more the international community warns sternly that, if it were proved that Iran were in noncompliance, that could have very grave consequences.

But fortunately no matter how thoroughly the Iranians noncomply it’s never quite enough for grave consequences. You can’t blame Mr. Ahmadinejad for thinking “our enemies cannot do a damned thing.”

It’s not the world’s job to prove the Iranians are bluffing. The braggadocio is reason enough to act. Prolonged negotiations with a regime that openly admits to negotiating just for laughs only damages us further. The perfect summation of the Iranian negotiations approach came in this gem of a sentence from last July 13’s New York Times:

“Iran will resume uranium enrichment if the European Union does not recognize its right to do so, two Iranian nuclear negotiators said in an interview published Thursday.”

Got that? If we don’t let Iran go nuclear, they’ll go nuclear. That position might tax even the nuanced detecting skills of John Kerry.

By comparison, the Tehran press has a clearsightedness American readers can only envy. A couple of months back, the newspaper Kayhan, owned by Ayatollah Khamenei, ran an editorial called “Our immortality and the West’s disability,” with which it was hard to disagree: Even if one subscribes to the view sanctions are sufficient response to states that threaten to nuke their neighbors, Mohammad Jafar Behdad correctly noted they would not seriously affect Iran but would inflict greater damage on those Western economies that take them seriously (which France certainly won’t).

Meanwhile, The Washington Post offers the likes of Ronald D. Asmus, who was deputy assistant secretary of state under President Clinton, arguing “Contain Iran: Admit Israel to NATO.” “Containment” is a word that should have died with the Cold War, and certainly after the Oil-for-Food revelations: Aside from the minimal bang for huge numbers of bucks, you can’t “contain” a state. Under the illusion of “containment”, events are always moving, and usually in favor of the fellow you’re trying to contain. But the idea that the way to “contain” Iran is to admit Israel to NATO elevates “containment” from an obsolescent striped-pants reflex to the realm of insanity.

All the doom-mongers want to know why we went into Iraq “without a plan.” Well, one reason is surely that, for a year before the invasion, the U.S. government’s energy was primarily devoted to the pointless tap-dance through the U.N., culminating in the absurd situation of Western foreign ministers chasing each other through Africa to bend the ear of the president of Guinea, who happened to be on the Security Council that week but whose witch doctor had advised against supporting Washington. Allowing the Guinean tail to wag the French rectum of the British hindquarters of the American dog was a huge waste of resources. To go through it all again in order to prevent whichever global colossus chances to be on the Security Council this time (Haiti? The South Sandwich Islands?) from siding with the Russo-Chinese obstructionists would show that the U.S. had learned nothing.

Bill Clinton, the sultan of swing, gave an interesting speech last week, apropos foreign policy: “Anytime somebody said in my presidency, ‘If you don’t do this, people will think you’re weak,’ I always asked the same question for eight years: ‘Can we kill ‘em tomorrow?’ If we can kill ‘em tomorrow, then we’re not weak, and we might be wise enough to try to find an alternative way.”

The trouble was tomorrow never came — from the first World Trade Center attack to Khobar Towers to the African embassy bombings to the USS Cole. Maana is not a policy. The Iranians are merely the latest to understand that.

Mark Steyn is the senior contributing editor for Hollinger Inc. Publications, senior North American columnist for Britain’s Telegraph Group, North American editor for the Spectator, and a nationally syndicated columnist.

© Mark Steyn, 2005

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