- The Washington Times - Monday, March 30, 2009

COMMENTARY:

President Obama is setting the stage for a possible war in the Middle East. During last week’s press conference, he said his administration will be “persistent” in courting Iran’s mullahs.

The centerpiece of his Iran strategy is direct diplomacy. He seeks face-to-face negotiations, maintaining that dialogue and economic incentives will convince Tehran to abandon its quest for the nuclear bomb. The Bush administration’s policy of containment is being replaced with one of engagement.

Yet, Mr. Obama is hoping to succeed where the EU-3 (Germany, Britain and France) has failed. For years, the EU-3 has been pushing the diplomatic rock up the Iranian mountain - only to see it fall every time.

Mr. Obama recently sent a personal video message, offering an “open hand” to Tehran’s Islamic fascists. Their response: Take a hike. Still, Mr. Obama will continue to push for talks until Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad “unclenches his fist” and agrees to participate. Like Britain’s Neville Chamberlain at Munich, the president is bent on appeasement, whatever the cost.

Throughout the Bush years, the left made one central argument: His neoconservative ideology trumped reality; his desire to spread liberty in Iraq - and the wider region - conflicted with the cold, hard facts of Islamic authoritarian culture. Democracy, however, is slowly sprouting from the sands of Mesopotamia. Ironically, it is Mr. Obama who allows entrenched policy positions to blind him to the evil, odious nature of the Iranian regime.

Recently, a senior defector, former Deputy Defense Minister Ali Reza Asghari, revealed that Tehran has been funding Syria’s nuclear weapons program. A central element was the North Korean nuclear reactor in Syria, which Israel destroyed in September 2007. Mr. Asghari’s revelations should shake the Obama administration to its very foundations: Tehran has established a nuclear axis with Damascus and Pyongyang. In fact, the Syrian reactor was modeled on North Korea’s at Yongbyon.

Contrary to the claims of liberal State Department apparatchiks, Iran’s mullahs are not using the nuclear issue as a bargaining chip to maximize concessions from the West. Rather, they are using negotiations to mask their clandestine program. Protracted diplomacy buys more time. Tehran has an overriding interest in stringing out the process.

Israeli intelligence officials are convinced Iran is less than a year from acquiring the bomb. A nuclear Iran will trigger a regional arms race. It may also unleash a military confrontation with Israel and plunge the Middle East into a bloodbath.

Mr. Ahmadinejad has repeatedly vowed to wipe the Jewish state off the map. He has called Israel “a rotting, stinking corpse” whose “days are coming to an end.” The Israeli government plans to launch devastating air strikes to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities. Hence, Mr. Obama faces the specter of an all-out war in the Middle East, one that may even involve nuclear weapons if Tehran gets the bomb.

Like most secular leftists, Mr. Obama fails to grasp the essential nature of the Iranian regime. It is not a classic Persian dictatorship with a Shi’ite face. Rather, it is a revolutionary totalitarian state based on absolute power and religious fanaticism. Its goal is not to serve the Iranian people, but to bring about the apocalypse, the so-called return of the Hidden Imam, which is supposed to usher in the final triumph of Islam. The regime’s founder, the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, preached that “To kill and be killed are the supreme duties of Muslims.” He also liked to say war is a “divine blessing.”

The bomb will be the culmination of the Khomeinist revolution: It will empower radical Shi’ism to expand its influence over the region. Iran is on the march. It controls Hezbollah and Hamas. Syria is a satellite. Lebanon is a political vassal. Southern Iraq is under its hegemony.

Going nuclear will allow Tehran to dominate the Middle East and intimidate its neighbors. Most important, it will enable the regime to stand up to the West - especially, America and Israel. No amount of concessions - economic aid packages, trade deals or diplomatic carrots - can convince the Islamic Republic to abandon its nuclear program.

Outside of military strikes, only one other option can bring Tehran to heel: imposing crippling sanctions. Although Iran is a major oil exporter, it imports about 40 percent of its gasoline, due to its dismal domestic refining capacity. Were Washington to slap punitive energy sanctions against the small number of international companies that sell petroleum to Tehran (many of which also have substantial business dealings with the U.S. government), Iran’s teetering economy could crumble.

Mr. Ahmadinejad’s statist policies have resulted in soaring inflation and economic stagnation. Social unrest is widespread and growing. Tough sanctions could push the economy - and the public - over the edge, leading to internal regime change. Yet, the administration refuses to even consider this option.

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