Tuesday, December 6, 2005

Do you remember back a few months when it was reported that the CIA had determined that Iran was probably 10 years away from being able to develop a nuclear bomb? It was in all the papers, and made almost everyone feel much relieved. It certainly put those hot-head alarmists and warmongers in our places. We had been citing Israel’s assertion that by the spring of 2006 Iran could have the bomb.

My, how time flies. This week Mohamed ElBaradei, the chairman of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), confirmed Israel’s assessment to the British liberal newspaper the Independent, and stated that if Tehran indeed resumed its uranium enrichment in other plants, as threatened, it will take Iran only “a few months to produce a nuclear bomb.”

Keep in mind, Mr. ElBaradei is not some wild bomb-thrower (so to speak). He is the same diplomat who the Bush administration recently, and unsuccessfully, tried to block from being reappointed chairman of the IAEA because he was insufficiently assertive and too inclined to understate the danger of nuclear development in Muslim countries.

Despite Mr. ElBaradei’s brief lapse into forthright candor, he is still a true diplomat — in the worst sense of the word. After agreeing that Iran’s nuclear bomb was only months away, he went on to explain that, on the other hand, any attempt to resolve the crisis by non-diplomatic means would “open a Pandora’s Box, there would be efforts to isolate Iran; Iran would retaliate; and at the end of the day you have to go back to the negotiating table to find the solution.”

Meanwhile, for those of you with unnaturally long political memories, you may recall all the way back 10 months to January 2005, when President Bush said in his State of the Union address that Iran would not be permitted to develop a nuclear weapon. It was a flat assertion, with no qualifiers (“The Iranian regime must give up its uranium enrichment program and any plutonium reprocessing”).

And he went further. He concluded his peroration with the inspiring words: “And to the Iranian people, I say tonight: As you stand for your own liberty, America stands with you.” That statement was taken in the press around the world, and especially on Iranian Web sites, as a call for regime change in Iran.

Unfortunately, a few months later the people of Iran elected by a large majority Mahmud Ahmedinejad, a radical Islamist and a suspected leader of the gang that took and tormented our diplomats in Tehran in 1979.

Mr. Ahmedinejad is not a cuddly figure. He has threatened to restart Iran’s nuclear program — and sneered at American warnings against such action. He was undiplomatic enough to tauntingly assert that we don’t have enough troops to stop him (apparently he forgot about our Air Force. I hope we haven’t). He also proclaimed his objective to wipe Israel off the map — and called any Muslim against such a project a bad Muslim.

Which brings us to Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” Scene One, Act Five, line 189 (Hamlet’s last soliloquy of Act One): “The time is out of joint. O cursed spite, That ever I was born to set it right!”

To recapitulate Act one, Scene five: The ghost of Hamlet’s father demands that Hamlet “revenge his foul and most unnatural murder.”

Hamlet, just as Mr. Bush in the State of the Union quickly responds: “Haste me to know’t, that I with wings as swift as meditation or the thoughts of love, may sweep to my revenge.”

Then Hamlet’s ghost father informs him that his murderer is Hamlet’s uncle, the new king: “The serpent that did sting thy father’s life now wears his crown.”

Which leads Hamlet to doubt and fear, and cursing that he was ever born “to set it right.”

Now does George Bush sit, fretting in the White House that soon, dreadfully soon, he will have to act to reclaim his honor and his bold words that Iran shall not possess the bomb? Is he agonizing over whether the world will be better off with a nuclear or non-nuclear Iran? Does he know it must be de-nuclearized — but curse, Hamlet-like, that it is his job to do it?

Perhaps. But I suspect that W is not Hamlet — a tragedy; but resolute Henry V — a history, who said to his troops before battle: “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;… Be copy now to men of grosser blood. And teach them how to war… For there is none of you so mean and base That hath not noble luster in your eyes. I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips, Straining upon the start. The game’s afoot: Follow your spirit, and upon this charge Cry ‘God for Harry, England and Saint George.’ ”

Or we could follow Mr. ElBaradei’s advice and negotiate with a hell-bent for leather fanatically lead nuclear Iran, even as we have been unsuccessfully negotiating with a still non-nuclear Iran. It might work.

On the other hand, you could ask the ghost of Neville Chamberlain how that worked out for him in 1939.

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