When the United States imposed sanctions on South Africa in the 1980s, it was done for sound moral reasons. There are even more important reasons why sanctions against Iran are needed today: If it succeeds in developing nuclear weapons - and it is strongly committed to doing so - world peace surely will be threatened. That is why I joined with Christian leaders in the fall in signing a letter to Congress calling for sanctions and a boycott of arms sales to Iran. Regrettably, President Obama has shown little interest in supporting this effort. In his State of the Union address this week, Iran was barely a footnote.
No one objects to the peaceful pursuit of uranium enrichment programs. But when the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism embarks on such a quest and is known to be building underground nuclear facilities, it’s more than a game changer - it’s an international outrage. From all that we know, Iran already has enough uranium to make at least two nuclear bombs. No one seriously believes that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wants nuclear power to enhance the lifestyle of his oppressed people.
One wonders what it will take to shake the Obama administration out of its slumber. Diplomatic appeals work fine when friendly and democratic nations are at odds, but when the president of a terrorist regime promises to wipe a friendly and democratic nation “off the map,” and when he repeatedly thumbs his nose at such world bodies as the United Nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency, the only credible nonviolent response is sanctions.
I speak not simply as a Catholic leader, but as a veteran of the U.S. Air Force. Like many other men and women, I served my country with pride. Pride in what America stands for and pride in what it has done in the cause of freedom. That is why I am so rocked by recent events. This is an administration that seems to put the civil liberties of likely terrorists above national security matters. There may be legitimate reasons for wanting to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center, but not among them is a desire to prove to our enemies that we really care about human rights. The first human right is the right to life.
On Dec. 5, thousands stood in the freezing rain in downtown New York protesting the decision by the Obama administration to try an admitted terrorist, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, in a civilian court. I remember looking out the window of my office on Sept. 11, 2001, watching with horror the destruction of the World Trade Center. To think that the man who masterminded this satanic attack is being treated as if he as though he were a common Subway mugger is nauseating.
We have been through too much as a nation to put up with this any longer. Those who think Mr. Ahmadinejad will not give extremists like Hezbollah and Hamas nuclear weapons are dead wrong. He is not simply blowing smoke when he makes public threats - he means what he says. All he lacks is the means to match his will.
The clock is winding down, but it is not too late for Mr. Obama to call for sanctions against Iran. I am confident that if he does, Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims and many others will line up to support him.
William A. Donohue is president of theCatholic League for Religious and Civil Rights.
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