By Charles Krauthammer
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
"It was what made this E.U. Three approach so successful. They [Britain, France and Germany] stood together and they had one uniform position."
-- German Chancellor
Angela Merkel, Jan. 13
Makes you want to weep. One day earlier, Britain, France and Germany admitted that their two years of talks to stop Iran's nuclear weapons program had collapsed. The Iranians had broken the seals on their nuclear facilities and were resuming activity in defiance of their pledges to the "E.U. Three." This negotiating exercise, designed as an alternative to the U.S. approach of imposing sanctions on Iran for its violations of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, had proved entirely futile. If anything, the two-year hiatus gave Iran time to harden its nuclear facilities against bombardment, acquire new antiaircraft capacities and clandestinely advance its program.
With all this, the chancellor of Germany declared the exercise a success because the allies stuck together! The last such success was Dunkirk. Lots of solidarity there, too.
Most dismaying was that this assessment came from a genuinely good friend, the new German chancellor, who, unlike her predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder (now a wholly owned Putin flunky working for Russia's state-run oil monopoly), actually wants to do something about terrorism and nuclear proliferation.
Ah, success. Instead of being years away from the point of no return for an Iranian bomb, as we were before we allowed Europe to divert anti-proliferation efforts into transparently useless talks, Iran is probably just months away. And now, of course, Iran is run by an even more radical government, led by a president who fervently believes in the imminence of the apocalypse.
Ah, success. Having delayed two years, we now have to deal with a set of fanatical Islamists who we know will not be deterred from pursuing nuclear weapons by any sanctions. Even if we could get real sanctions. Which we will not. The remaining months before Iran goes nuclear are about to be frittered away in pursuit of this newest placebo.
First, because Russia and China will threaten to veto any serious sanctions. The Chinese in particular have secured in Iran a source of oil and gas outside the American sphere to feed their growing economy and are quite happy geopolitically to support a rogue power that -- like North Korea -- threatens, distracts and diminishes the power of China's chief global rival, the United States.
Second, because the Europeans have no appetite for real sanctions either. A travel ban on Iranian leaders would be a joke; they don't travel anyway. A cutoff of investment and high-tech trade from Europe would be a minor irritant to a country of 70 million people with the second-largest oil reserves in the world and with oil at $60 a barrel. North Korea tolerated 2 million dead from starvation to get its nuclear weapons. Iran will tolerate a shortage of flat-screen TVs.
The only sanctions that might conceivably have any effect would be a boycott of Iranian oil. No one is even talking about that, because no one can bear the thought of the oil shock that would follow, taking 4.2 million barrels a day off the market, from a total output of about 84 million barrels.
The threat works in reverse. It is the Iranians who have the world over a barrel. On Jan. 15, Iran's economy minister warned that Iran would retaliate for any sanctions by cutting its exports to "raise oil prices beyond levels the West expects." A full cutoff could bring $100 oil and plunge the world into economic crisis.
Which is one of the reasons the Europeans are so mortified by the very thought of a military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. The problem is not just that they are spread out and hardened, making them difficult to find and to damage sufficiently to seriously set back Iran's program.
The problem that mortifies the Europeans is what Iran might do after such an attack -- not just cut off its oil exports but shut down the Strait of Hormuz by firing missiles at tankers or scuttling its vessels to make the strait impassable. It would require an international armada led by the United States to break such a blockade.
Such consequences -- serious economic disruption and possible naval action -- are something a cocooned, aging, post-historic Europe cannot even contemplate. Which is why the Europeans have had their heads in the sand for two years. And why they will spend the little time remaining -- before a group of apocalyptic madmen go nuclear -- putting their heads back in the sand. And congratulating themselves on allied solidarity as they do so in unison.