Why Did Bush Blink on Iran? (Ask Condi)

By Richard Perle
Sunday, June 25, 2006

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran knows what he wants: nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them; suppression of freedom at home and the spread of terrorism abroad; and the "shattering and fall of the ideology and thoughts of the liberal democratic systems."

President Bush, too, knows what he wants: an irreversible end to Iran's nuclear weapons program, the "expansion of freedom in all the world" and victory in the war on terrorism.

The State Department and its European counterparts know what they want: negotiations.

For more than five years, the administration has dithered. Bush gave soaring speeches, the Iranians issued extravagant threats and, in 2003, the State Department handed the keys to the impasse to the British, French and Germans (the "E.U.-3"), who offered diplomatic valet parking to an administration befuddled by contradiction and indecision. And now, on May 31, the administration offered to join talks with Iran on its nuclear program.

How is it that Bush, who vowed that on his watch "the worst weapons will not fall into the worst hands," has chosen to beat such an ignominious retreat?

Proximity is critical in politics and policy. And the geography of this administration has changed. Condoleezza Rice has moved from the White House to Foggy Bottom, a mere mile or so away. What matters is not that she is further removed from the Oval Office; Rice's influence on the president is undiminished. It is, rather, that she is now in the midst of -- and increasingly represents -- a diplomatic establishment that is driven to accommodate its allies even when (or, it seems, especially when) such allies counsel the appeasement of our adversaries.

The president knows that the Iranians are undermining us in Iraq. He knows that the mullahs are working to sink any prospect of peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, backing Hamas and its goal of wiping Israel off the map. He knows that for years Iran has concealed and lied about its nuclear weapons program. He knows that Iran leads the world in support for terrorism. And he knows that freedom and liberty in Iran are brutally suppressed.

The president knew all this in 2003 when he learned of Natanz, Arak and other concealed Iranian nuclear facilities. After the International Atomic Energy Agency became aware of Iran's hidden infrastructure in June of that year, we could have referred the matter to the U.N. Security Council and demanded immediate action. But neither our allies nor our diplomats nor the State Department experts assigned to the White House desired confrontation. It would be better, they argued (as always) to buy time, even though diplomatic time for them was weapons-building time for Iran.

So, after declaring that a nuclear Iran was "unacceptable," Bush blinked and authorized the E.U.-3 to approach Tehran with proposals to reward the mullahs if they promised to end their nuclear weapons program.

During these three years, the Iranians have advanced steadily toward acquiring nuclear weapons, defiantly announcing milestones along the way. At the end of May, with Ahmadinejad stridently reiterating Iran's "right" to enrich the uranium necessary for nuclear weapons, the administration blinked again.

The mullahs don't blink -- they glare. Two weeks ago, the secretary of Iran's Expediency Council, dismissing the United States as a paper tiger, said: "Something very important is happening. . . . The Americans are no longer saying that Iran must be deprived of its nuclear rights forever. Iran has accomplished a great thing."

The "great thing" Mohsen Rezai sees is a weakened U.S. position, with Washington backing away from the brave words of the past, and Rice offering to substitute the United States for the E.U.-3. Just last week, Ahmadinejad said that Iran will need nearly three months to respond to our latest offer. (How time flies when you're having fun.)

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