March 04, 2006

Careful What You Wish For

Given how morally contemptible and profoundly destructive the Bush administration has been in every area, it's very understandable that many people take delight in Bush's plunging poll ratings. I have those feelings myself. But one word of caution: both world and American history show that many leaders have sought to bolster their sagging fortunes by rallying their country in response to a dire foreign threat, real or imagined. If enough people can be convinced that a crisis exists, they will lend their support to their political leaders, even if they would have little use for them under more ordinary circumstances.

What most offends me about the following is not its mindnumbing familiarity, but the contempt for world and American opinion that it reveals. Does the administration truly believe that everyone will fall for this routine again, and so quickly? But of course, the evidence to date suggests that the administration will have the last laugh on this question: it appears that most Americans, and most Democratic leaders, have not only fallen for it -- they want our government to take even stronger measures in response to the perceived threat of a potentially nuclear Iran. To recast Mencken's famous statement: no one ever failed to instigate a war by underestimating the intelligence of the American public.

So we have this news story:
The Bush administration, preparing to take Iran's case to the U.N. Security Council as early as next week, is seeking a 30-day deadline for Tehran to halt its nuclear program and cooperate with international inspectors or face severe diplomatic pressures, according to several senior U.S. and European officials.

But the officials, who discussed the details of the diplomatic strategy on the condition of anonymity, said they expected tough negotiations among the Security Council's 15 members and said much hinges on Russia.

Russian officials have spent the past several weeks trying to persuade the Islamic republic to freeze much of its nuclear infrastructure and transfer the most sensitive aspects to Russia. Iran has expressed interest in a joint uranium-enrichment venture with Moscow but also wants to enrich uranium at home, which it says would be used for an energy program. Iran's chief negotiator, Ali Larijani, reiterated that position to senior European officials Friday in Vienna.

The Bush administration asserts that Iran's nuclear energy program is a cover for bomb-making. A three-year investigation by inspectors with the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency has not found proof of an Iranian nuclear weapons effort. But the agency also cannot determine whether Iran's nuclear program is strictly for peaceful purposes.


Going to the council represents the second time in four years that the Bush administration has tried to persuade the U.N. to pressure a Muslim country accused of hiding a weapons program. Wary of the comparisons to Iraq, where no weapons of mass destruction were found, the White House is hoping a combination of diplomacy, U.N. inspections and negotiations will succeed in pressuring Iran. At the same time, Washington hopes to ease the concerns of allies suspicious of U.S. intentions.


U.S. diplomats have prepared a draft statement for adoption by the council, noting the IAEA's latest findings. Diplomats said the U.S. draft gives Iran 30 days to suspend its nuclear activities and cooperate with inspectors or face the possibility of tougher diplomatic action. U.S. and European officials have been discussing a number of measures inside and outside the council's purview, such as travel bans on Iranian officials, economic sanctions or an oil embargo.

"The idea is to begin slowly, with a presidential statement, set timetables and then give Iran a certain deadline to respond," one senior U.S. official said. "After that we push harder with a resolution."
Given the administration's past performance, one can only conclude this is "diplomacy" designed to fail. And most people are falling for it.

I'll discuss this further when I complete my Iran series. The most recent parts are here and here.