- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 19, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

This year’s presidential primary campaign has been largely devoid of any serious consideration of the national security threats facing this nation. Nothing illustrates this better than the vacuous views of Sen. Barack Obama, who says that we should “talk with the Iranians” without preconditions. Apparently, the paramount issue now before the United States is whether an administration in power will talk with representatives of the Iranian government. In a recent interview at Camp David, Chris Wallace of the Fox News Channel asked President Bush, “Should we talk with Iran?” Former Secretary of State Colin Powell was recently asked the same question by Wolf Blitzer of CNN.

The president’s response was the correct one: It is not an issue of whether we should talk with the Iranians. The issue is what we should be talking about and whether we should allow discussions to morph into a policy of appeasement. For example, in 1979, shortly after the Iranian thugocracy kidnapped over 50 American diplomats and held them hostage for more than 400 days, the Carter administration negotiated with the Iranian mullahs and agreed to indemnify them from any lawsuits arising out of the kidnapping. Significant financial inducements were provided to Iran as well. Although our diplomats were eventually released, Iran — through its proxies Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria and Libya — continued to murder Americans in Beirut, over Lockerbie, Scotland, in Israel and in Lebanon.

During the Clinton administration, a commission established by then-Vice President Al Gore and Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin was designed to limit Russian weapons sales to Iran. Unfortunately, the Russians used the proceedings to provide intelligence to the Iranians on how to successfully hide their missile and nuclear-weapons programs, while at the same time eliminating sources working in the weapons factories that were providing critical information about proliferation activities. And this took place at the same time that the Clinton administration was seeking to offer a package deal with Iran providing foreign investment, a lifting of sanctions and recognition of the regime as the legitimate and sole representative of the Iranian people.

The idea that there is a sharp delineation between diplomacy and other measures of power — such as military force, blockades, financial sanctions or divestment — is a popular one. But as Henry Kissinger reminded us: “A free standing diplomacy is an ancient American illusion. History offers few examples of it. The attempt to separate diplomacy and power results in power lacking direction and diplomacy being deprived of incentives.” Unfortunately, some believe that sitting down with the mullahs without preconditions contains a magical power that will somehow transform our enemies into friends. Even the weak-kneed United Nations has set preconditions: Sanctions will not be lifted unless Iran stops its enrichment of uranium and manufacturing of nuclear fuel.

The dangers civilization faces will not be talked away by pretty rhetoric. Clinton administration Secretary of State Warren Christopher visited Syrian President Hafez Assad more than any other head of state. Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat was the leader most invited to the White House during that administration. What have we received in return? Syria has assassinated Lebanese leaders seeking democracy. It has engineered open warfare against Lebanon and Israel through its support of terrorism; it is the major transit route for bombers to enter Iraq (a sort of “travel agent for Al Qaeda”); and it is in league with North Korea both in furnishing missiles to Hezbollah and developing weapons of mass destruction. More recently, a group of House leaders met with Mr. Assad’s successor as president — his son Bashar — and then proclaimed that the road to peace goes through Damascus. As for Mr. Arafat, he gave us the first and second intifadas, both of which escalated the killing in Israel.

Two mentally retarded children were used as unwitting agents wearing explosive vests in recent bombings in Iraq. Outside of the Iraqi government, there was little outrage within the Muslim world over this atrocity and little within Europe. This moral cowardice is the reason America’s “ratings” — which concern Mr. Powell — remain depressed in too many corners of the world, including here in the United States.

But on the other hand, more than 70 nations have joined with the United States in putting into place the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI). Ambassadors from Slovenia, Bulgaria, Portugal and Sri Lanka recently praised PSI at a Potomac Institute for Policy Studies forum on combating terrorism. Similar investments in international agreements led by the United States on nuclear forensics, maritime and port security, missile defense, nuclear threat reductions and counterterrorism in general attest to the continued leadership of the United States in meeting common threats to allied security.

Similar criticism of President Reagan was endemic in the 1980s. While support for the nuclear freeze skyrocketed, European hostility to the deployment of Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) missiles rose dramatically. Support for the government of El Salvador was less than 10 percent in some polls, while Nicaragua’s leader Daniel Ortega was lionized by the media and Hollywood. In the end, democracy elected Violeta Chamorro in Managua, the deployed INF missiles by the United States helped force the Soviets to fold and the Salvadoran communist terrorists of the FMLN were defeated. This did not occur because we talked to our adversaries, but because we combined diplomacy, military power, economic warfare, common sense and faith in ourselves.

Peter Huessy is president of GeoStrategic Analysis.


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