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KUHNER: Consequences of a nuclear Iran

Obama’s refusal to confront mullahs ups the ante

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According to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, it's official: Iran has become a nuclear power. The respected Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that the Persian strongman this week at an Islamic conference in Cairo told an Egyptian daily Iran is a "nuclear country." If true -- and I stress if -- then this is the most important geopolitical development of our time. It means World War III has become a very real possibility.

Mr. Ahmadinejad warned the West in a long interview published in Al-Ahram that Iran's nuclear program was too advanced, and could no longer be rolled back. "They want Iran to go back to what it was in the past, but they won't succeed," he said. "They assume we'll give in to pressure; such thoughts are misguided."

The Iranian tyrant may be bluffing. Fearing possible U.S. or Israeli military strikes, Tehran's mullahs could be wagering that pretending to be a nuclear state will prevent a crippling attack. If so, Mr. Ahmadinejad is playing with fire -- literally. Instead, his inflammatory comments could spark Israel to launch a massive bombing campaign.

Mr. Ahmadinejad is a virulent anti-Semite and Shiite revolutionary. He has called for the Jewish state to be "wiped off the the face of the earth." He denies the Holocaust took place. He claims there is a Jewish world conspiracy, whereby "Zionists" and their "allies" run the international economy. He also fervently preaches that his mission is to aid the coming of the "Twelfth Imam" -- the Shiite version of the Messiah -- to Earth, ushering in Armageddon. Mr. Ahmadinejad believes this will erect a world Muslim empire. He is not only an Islamic fascist. He is a fanatical religious zealot bent upon changing the course of history. For him to say that Iran now possesses the technology and capacity to be a nuclear power is something the world should take very seriously.

What if Mr. Ahmadinejad is not lying? Then the West -- and especially the United States -- faces a major crisis. It means the West's policies of sanctions and diplomatic engagement have failed. It means the Persian despot has outmaneuvered President Obama and the United Nations. Moreover, Mr. Obama has vowed Iran will not be allowed to acquire the bomb. Should he back away from his promise, American credibility will be shattered. Our allies will never trust us again. If Mr. Obama makes good on his pledge, then there is only one option left: a military campaign to smash Iran's nuclear facilities.

An attack would trigger disastrous consequences. Iran is not Iraq. It is a much larger and more populous nation. It has proxies across the region -- including Hezbollah, Hamas and Syria's besieged regime. A U.S. military strike would likely spark a regional war, dragging in Israel and other Arab nations. The Iranian navy would mine the Strait of Hormuz, choking off a large percentage of the world's oil supply. Prices would skyrocket to $200 or even $300 for a barrel of oil. This would send shock waves throughout the global economy, throwing most industrial countries -- especially the United States -- into a depression. Mr. Obama's anti-war liberal base would revolt. The Democratic Party would be torn asunder. A war-weary America may not have the stomach for a protracted campaign.

Hence, Iran going nuclear paves the way for possible World War III. For all of his pathology, however, Mr. Ahmadinejad is not Adolf Hitler. The Islamic Republic is not Nazi Germany. Hitler oversaw the most powerful military and economic state in Europe. He was adored and supported not just by tens of millions of Germans, but countless other quislings who shared his vision of an Aryan master race. His formidable armies nearly conquered Europe. In contrast, Iran is a Third World basket case. Its economy is in shambles. Its military -- although large -- is plagued with internal divisions and poor equipment. Most importantly, Tehran's mullahs are despised by an overwhelming majority of Iranians. Rather than being loved, Mr. Ahmadinejad is hated by his own people. The theocratic regime is weak and crumbling.

This begs the question: Why did Mr. Obama and the West not support Iran's green revolution in 2009, when hundreds of thousands of anti-regime protesters poured onto the streets demanding that the mullahs step down? Instead, Mr. Obama turned a blind eye, publicly telling Tehran that Washington will not meddle in Iran's internal affairs. President Ronald Reagan used Poland's Solidarity protest movement to help bring down the Soviet empire -- and without a shot being fired. Mr. Obama could have followed a similar model. He didn't. Now the world may have to suffer the tragic consequences of his naive and reckless policies.

Jeffrey T. Kuhner is a radio commentator in Boston.

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