Monday, February 9, 2004

The 2004 presidential election is shaping up to be one of those extraordinary moments in the life of a democracy: Voters will actually have a real choice, not only between candidates but between two sharply divergent philosophies about how to protect America, her people and vital interests.

Reduced to its essence, that choice comes down to this: Should we continue to entrust our security to an incumbent president who has, when he felt the chips were down, exercised American power — in combination with “coalitions of the willing,” but without the permission of the United Nations? Or should we replace him with someone who condemns such a policy as “reckless,” “flawed” and deeply “ideological,” someone who believes firmly the U.N. is the best guarantor of our safety and who considers its blessing essential for our foreign policy and military actions to be “legitimate”?

At this writing, it appears Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry will be the standard-bearer for the latter philosophy. But virtually any of his remaining, declared rivals for the Democratic nomination appear to subscribe to it, as do the former Clinton administration staff members now providing all of them advice.

If President Bush’s interview on “Meet the Press” last Sunday is any guide, the incumbent intends to mount a spirited defense of his decision to use force to effect what was indisputably a strategic interest of the United States — ending the menace posed by Saddam Hussein to the Iraqi people, to those of the region and to us in this country. The stakes are such, however, that he must root his re-election bid in a broader case for avoiding undue reliance on the U.N.

As it happens, an excellent vehicle for such an important educational mission is at hand. It can be found in Moammar Gadhafi’s recent decision to acknowledge having, among other active weapons of mass destruction programs, a longstanding and aggressive covert effort to acquire nuclear arms. This disclosure, and the Libyan dictator’s decision to make it to the United States and Britain — and not to the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), makes the point nicely: The so-called “nuclear watchdog” organization based in Vienna, like its parent on the East River in New York, is simply not up to the job of keeping us safe.

To the contrary, as often as not, the IAEA has — most especially under the leadership of its present director general, Mohamed ElBaradei — been part of the problem, not the solution to nuclear proliferation. It has repeatedly missed evidence that not only Libya but countries like North Korea, Iran, and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq were secretly amassing the technology, know-how and raw materials to build nuclear arms. It was shocked, shocked to discover that the father of Pakistan’s atomic program, A.Q. Khan, had been running an international Nukes-‘R-Us for years, feeding the ambitions of who knows how many clients to get “the Bomb.”

Worse yet, Mr. ElBaradei, an Egyptian national who has scarcely concealed his sympathies for Arab and Muslim states and his hostility toward American policy, has routinely acted in a way better calculated to thwart U.S. counterproliferation efforts than to prevent the spread of nuclear weaponry.

For example, Mr. ElBaradei has gone to great lengths to prevent the Bush administration from bringing Iran’s illegal nuclear weapons program before the U.N. Security Council, a step mandated in the case of violations of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. He also has slanted IAEA reports on Iran to make sure the conclusions do not support a Security Council referral, often by inserting unjustified findings that obscure or downplay the actual evidence.

Incredibly, such behavior continued even after Iran issued a declaration last October to the IAEA that revealed an array of nuclear weapons-related activities. These included: uranium enrichment, an advanced centrifuge initiative (involving, among other things, the introduction of uranium hexafloride into these devices), plutonium separation, laser enrichment, a heavy water plant and efforts to perfect a nuclear fuel cycle.

Any one of these admissions would be a good indication of a nuclear weapons research and development program. Together, they amount to a compelling case of a state determined to make significant numbers of nuclear bombs. Yet, Mr. ElBaradei concluded there was no clear evidence of weapons intent in Tehran.

President Bush has been under intense pressure from the State Department and allied governments to do what John Kerry would apparently do — rely on the U.N. bureaucracy to safeguard us from nuclear-armed mullahs in Iran and lunatic despots in places like Baghdad, Tripoli and Pyongyang. Fortunately, Mr. Bush has acted, instead, on his conviction peace through American strength is a far better guarantee of our security than clueless — or worse, malfeasant — international organizations and officials.

In so doing, he has offered the public a choice between effective, pro-active stewardship in the War on Terror and potentially very dangerous paralysis in that conflict, justified by the predictable lack of multilateral consensus. This is a choice we cannot afford to get wrong.

Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is president of the Center for Security Policy and a columnist for The Washington Times.

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