- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 22, 2006

Let me see. On one hand we have a regime pressing full steam ahead with its nuclear program and whose president has threatened to wipe another sovereign state off the map.

On the other side of the negotiations, we have Her Britannic Majesty’s Principal Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. A member of the “EU3” — the Franco-German-British team Washington has let lead negotiations with Iran — Jack Straw has been at pains to emphasize no military action against Tehran is contemplated by him or anybody else. But in a sign he’s losing patience with the mullahs, Mr. Straw’s officials have indicated they’re prepared to consider the possibility of possibly considering the consideration of a possible motion on considering sanctions for the U.N. Security Council to consider the possibility of considering.

But don’t worry, they’re not escalating this thing any more than necessary. Initially, Britain is considering “narrowly targeted sanctions such as a travel ban on Iranian leaders.”

That’ll show ‘em: Iranian missiles may be able to leave Iranian airspace, but not the deputy trade minister. No more trips to Paris for the spring collections or skiing in Gstaad for the A-list ayatollahs.

Needless to say, German Deputy Foreign Minister Gernot Erler has already cautioned this may go too far and sanctions could well hurt Europe more than the Iranians. Perhaps this is what passes for a good cop/bad cop routine, with Herr Erler affably suggesting to the punks they might want to cooperate or he’ll have to send his pal Jack in to tear up their tickets for the Michael Moore premiere at the Cannes Film Festival.

But, if I were Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or the wackier ayatollahs, I would mull over the kid-glove treatment from the EU and figure: Wow, if this is the respect we get before the nukes are fully operational, imagine how they’ll treat us this time next year. Incidentally, the assumption in the European press that the nuclear payload won’t be ready to fly for three or four years is laughably optimistic.

So any time-consuming Western strategy is in the Iran regime’s favor. After all, President Ahmaggedonouttahere’s formative experience was participation in the 1979 seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Teheran. I believe it was Andrei Gromyko who remarked that, if the students had pulled the same stunt at the Soviet Embassy, Tehran would be a crater by lunchtime.

So what can be done? Right now, Iran can count on at least two Security Council vetoes against any meaningful action by the “international community.” As for the unilaterally inclined, the difficulty for the United States and Israel is there’s really no Osirak-type resolution of the problem — a quick surgical strike, in and out. By most counts, there are upwards of a couple hundred potential sites spread across a wide range of diverse terrain, from remote mountain fastnesses to residential suburbs. Neutralizing them all would require sustained bombing over several weeks, with the usual collateral damage at schools, hospitals, etc., plastered all over CNN and the BBC.

Meanwhile, Iraq’s Shi’ite south would turn into another Sunni Triangle for coalition forces. Every challenge to the civilized world begins as a contest of wills — and for the Iranians recent history, from the shah and the embassy siege to the Iraqi “insurgency” and Jack Straw’s sound bites, tells them the West can’t muster the will needed to make them back down.

But, granted the Iranian destabilization of Iraq and their sponsorship of terror groups in Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority, surely for a $44 billion U.S. intelligence budget it shouldn’t be difficult to find enough spare cash to give them a taste of their own medicine. Who, after all, likes the Tehran regime? The Russian and Chinese and North Korean governments and the fulsome Mr. Straw appear to do so, but there’s less evidence the Iranian people do.

The majority of Iran’s population is younger than the revolution: Whether they’re as “pro-American” as is sometimes claimed, they have no memory of the Shah; all they’ve ever known is their ramshackle Islamic republic where the unemployment rate is now 25 percent. If war breaks out, those surplus young men will be in uniform and defending their homeland. Why not tap into their excess energy right now?

As the foreign terrorists have demonstrated in Iraq, you don’t need a lot of local support to give the impression (at least to Western leftists) of a popular insurgency. Would it not be feasible to turn the tables and upgrade Iran’s somewhat lethargic dissidents into something a little livelier? If they can destabilize us, why can’t we destabilize them? A Tehran preoccupied by internal suppression will find it harder to pull off its pretensions to regional superpower status.

Who else could we stir up? Well, did you see that story in Britain’s Sunday Telegraph? Eight of the regime’s border guards have been kidnapped and threatened with decapitation by a fanatical Sunni group in Iranian Baluchistan. I’m of the view the Shi’ites are a much better long-term bet as reformable Muslims. But given there are 6 million Sunni in Iran and they’re a majority in some provinces, would it not be possible to give the regime its own Sunni Triangle to get into a Vietnam-style quagmire in?

No option is without risks, though some are overstated, including regional anger at any Western action: As Egypt and Saudi Arabia have indicated, not many Arab Sunni regimes really wish to live under the nuclear umbrella of a Persian Shi’ite superpower. And, as for the leader most amenable to the prospect, one further reason to put the skids under Junior Assad in Damascus is to underline there’s a price to be paid for getting too cosy with Tehran.

The British foreign secretary’s mullah-coddling is particularly unworthy in that, as far Iran has a strategy, its president’s chief adviser, Hassan Abbassi, has based it on the premise “Britain is the mother of all evils” — the evils of America, Australia, Israel and the Gulf states, all malign progeny of the British Empire.

Does he mean it? Well, every risk has to be weighed against the certainty Iran would use its nuclear capacity in the same way it already uses its other assets — by supporting terror groups that operate against its enemies. In that sense, whether America is at war with Iran, Iran is already at war with America.

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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