- The Washington Times - Friday, June 23, 2006

The U.S. a greater threat to global stability than Iran or China? Clearly preposterous, you would say. Well, think again because that’s how our European allies have sized up the current state of geopolitical play. At least, those were the findings of a Harris poll conducted with the Financial Times, regarded by most foreign policy cognoscenti as the world’s best English-language daily newspaper.

The alarming poll was conducted in Britain, France, Italy and Spain over three days from June 6. Thirty-six percent of some 5,000 polled identified the U.S. as the greatest threat to world stability. Iran was in second place with 30 percent and China third with 18 percent.

Adding insult to injury, another Pew Foundation survey of Global Attitudes toward the U.S., released the same week, showed America’s global image still slipping and support for the war on terrorism continuing to decline, even among close U.S. allies like Japan. “And despite growing concern over Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the U.S. presence in Iraq is cited at least as often as Iran — and in many countries much more often — as a danger to world peace,” said the Pew summary.

In Britain, America’s most important ally in Iraq, 60 percent say the war has made the world more dangerous, while only 30 percent feel it has made the world safer. And in Spain, where a terrorist attack on commuter trains killed 192 and injured 2,000, four times as many people oppose the war on terror as support it (76 percent vs. 19 percent).

President Bush pays no attention to domestic polls, even less to foreign surveys. But the “bounce” at home was a downer abroad and feelings run strong all over the Western alliance about Mr. Bush’s “war of choice” in Iraq, which became a magnet for clandestine recruitment of jihadi cells throughout Europe and the Middle East. Yet European governments have gone out of their way to ignore popular opinion in an attempt to reverse a dangerous drift in trans-Atlantic relations.

Healing the rift will cost the allies. At a U.S.-European Union summit in Vienna this week, Mr. Bush had no choice but to remind them that out of almost $14 billion pledged by Europe for Iraq and Afghanistan, less than $4 billion has been disbursed. As the allies read the Afghan tea leaves, Taliban is on the comeback trail and the new narco-democracy is already morphing back to narco-theocracy.

While Iran’s mullahs were mulling over a U.S.-EU package of carrots, in writing, coupled with sticks, not in writing, so as not to sound too provocative, realists in Europe’s foreign ministries concluded months ago that Iran was not about to forgo 19 years of costly clandestine effort to develop a nuclear weapons capability.

Realists/cynics say the only sticks that would be taken seriously by Iran would be a naval blockade of its Gulf and Indian Ocean ports. But neither Russia nor China nor a number of European allies would agree to that, nor to a U.N. Security Council draft resolution by the U.S. to impose draconian economic sanctions.

While Israel may decide Western and Eastern (China, Japan, South Korea) appeasement leaves the Jewish state no choice but to launch air strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities, there is a growing realization such a pre-emptive attack would quickly spark a major global crisis. Iranian mines sown in the Strait of Hormuz (choke point for 20 percent of the world’s daily oil needs) would shoot oil prices past $100 a barrel to $200. The military option, therefore, has little credibility.

Acquiescence down the road is the cynical unspoken (at least publicly) conclusion of many jaded and linguini-spined foreign policy gurus in Europe. Their only question is what should the U.S., EU, Russia and China try to get in return, such as revamped International Energy Agency inspections of nuclear facilities not involved in the covert weapons program in return for a pledge to forsake terrorism as a weapons system and the normalization of diplomatic relations with the U.S.

Iran, which has the world’s second-largest proven oil and natural gas reserves, has already foiled U.S. attempts to isolate it diplomatically. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad flew off to China in mid-June where he was invited to attend the 10-nation Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit, which claims to represent “half the human race.” SCO’s China, Russia, four Central Asian states, and members-in-waiting India, Pakistan and Iran, appear to be emerging as a riposte and counterweight to the expansion of NATO in former Soviet Republics. “An energy club,” Russian President Vladimir Putin called it. SCO’s agenda is “joint security, energy, cooperation against terrorism, Islamist extremism and separatism.” Evidently, Iran is not considered extremist in the East.

Tehran appears to have cast its lot with Russia and China to help develop its oil wealth — China for capital to pay Russia’s $225 billion Gazprom giant to develop the oil resources China needs. This would be part of the 10-year, $100 billion deal Iran made with China last year.

At next month’s G-8 summit in St. Petersburg, Mr. Putin is no longer the erstwhile supplicant. Fully recovered from the crash of 1998, Russia paid off its $22 billion debt to the Paris Club of creditor nations ahead of schedule.

Also moot is the credibility of a U.S. military option to compel North Korea to relinquish its embryonic nuclear weapons development and its preparations to test launch a two-stage Taepodong-2 intercontinental missile. Any kind of an air strike would presumably unleash 11,000 North Korean artillery tubes calibrated against Seoul, the South Korean capital. The U.S. would get blamed for whatever ensued. A 2005 poll of South Korean youngsters between 18 and 24 showed a 2-to-1 majority siding with North Korea in a war with the United States.

More economic sanctions or even a U.S. naval blockade of North Korea would inflict questionable pain. Running the closest thing to George Orwell’s “1984” Big Brother slave camp, Kim Jong-il had no compunction letting 2 million of his people die of starvation rather than concede he was on the wrong side of history. When Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said a missile test would be “a provocative act” that would “deepen its isolation,” it is hard to imagine North Korea being more isolated. Angered over the U.S. Treasury’s crackdown on its counterfeiting millions in near-perfect $100 bills, Pyongyang abandoned six-country negotiations last fall.

We have learned to live with a ninth nuclear power in North Korea. Judging from the state of diplomatic play with Iran, and the lack of credible military options, we may have to do the same with the 10th claimant to the badge of power. The Europeans are already there.

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.

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