In 1981, Israel did us all the great service of destroying Saddam Hussein’s Osirak reactor. Israel was widely condemned for it.
In 2007, Israel did us all the great service of quietly destroying Syria’s clandestine, nearly completed copy of North Korea’s Yongbyon reactor — apparently designed with North Korean help to serve as a plutonium factory on the Euphrates. No one backed up the Israelis by imposing serious penalties on Syria or North Korea. Instead, the U.S. administration kept quiet about that reactor for more than six months, lest news of North Korea’s perfidy and Syria’s nuclear ambitions might derail the diplomacy with which Condi Rice and her diplomatic proteges were busy haggling with Middle East despots and granting cash and concessions to North Korea in exchange for Pyongyang’s false promises of nuclear disarmament.
Now, courtesy of a front-page story in today’s New York Times, we read that in 2008, Israel was willing to tackle Iran’s nuclear program. But when the Israeli government secretly asked President Bush for specialized bunker-busting bombs to strike Iran’s main nuclear complex, Bush said no. Instead, as recounted in “U.S. Rejected Aid for Israeli Raid on Iranian Nuclear Site ,” Bush authorized “new covert action intended to sabotage Iran’s suspected effort to develop nuclear weapons” — according to the usual array of nameless “senior American and foreign officials.”
There are rings within rings here. One can be outraged, at varying quantum levels: at the growing menace of Iran’s “suspected” nuclear bomb program; at the fearful paralysis of the Bush administration; and at the usual self-serving carelessness of the Times, which goes on to detail some of the “covert” action — which, thanks not least to this story, we can now describe with “high confidence” (as they say in the intelligence community) as “overt.”
But three things stand out, and all of them imply an America that is trading relative calm today for horrific trouble down the road — in the form of Iranian nuclear hegemony over the Middle East, quite likely accompanied by a worldwide scramble for the bomb (signs of which we are already seeing).
1) If Israel was willing last year to take the risk of striking Iran’s bomb program, Bush should have said Thank you! and Hallelujah! Yes, there were risks, but all courses are by now fraught with risk — and the biggest risk, the monumental unthinkable-yet-now-imminent risk is that of Iran’s totalitarian terror-networking mullahs brandishing nuclear weapons, accompanied by a global scramble –defensive, offensive, you-name-it — for the bomb.
We can thank the U.S. Treasury, Justice Department and at least some portion of the intelligence community (I would prefer not to thank those who contributed to the final version of the lullaby that was the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear program) for valiant efforts to stop Iran by following the money, trying to enforce sanctions, and –according to the Times, booby-trapping what they could. But, on the evidence, a strategy of bearing down on nuclear proliferators with the full might of U.S. executive orders, terrorist designations and (for a touch of comic relief) UN sanctions, does a lot less to deter them than blowing up their nuclear facilities.
In refusing Israel’s request, Bush bought some modicum of “peace for our time,” or at least relative calm until the end of his second term. In proposing a sitdown with the mullahs, President-elect Obama is hoping for more of the same. But Iran is already at war against us. Behind the proxy wars of Iranian-backed Hamas and Hezbollah against Israel, behind Tehran’s drive to acquire nuclear weapons, behind the bloody 30-year trail of Iran’s terror-based regime both at home and abroad, lies a fundamental hostility toward America’s democratic way of life, and a declared, apocalyptic determination — “Death to Israel, Death to America” — to wipe it out. Live-and-let-live is not as a rule part of the totalitarian playbook.
Iran has paid no serious penalty for sponsoring the killing of American troops in Iraq, for taking British sailors hostage, for mocking United Nations demands to stop enriching uranium, for backing terrorist groups in Gaza and Lebanon, or for setting up a menacing bridgehead to Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez in America’s own backyard. No measures to date have sufficed to overthrow the mullahs, or even forced them to shut down their uranium centrifuges. Against this background, the missed opportunity chronicled by the NY Times can leave a person — how to put it? — queasy.
2) The Times reports that a major concern of the Bush administration was Israel’s request to fly over Iraq in order to reach nuclear facilities in Iran. The response, according to one of those nameless “top aides,” was “hell no” — lest that upset the Iraqis. So, let’s be clear about this. America has fought a long, costly campaign in Iraq, with the aim not only of overthrowing Saddam Hussein, but of rehabilitating Iraq as a democratic ally in the Middle East. Yet, in the matter of allowing overflights of Iraq aimed at destroying the worst menace to any prayer of peace or democracy in the Middle East today, the White House priority was — what? The sensitivities of an Iraqi government and/or population bigoted against Israel? The deals now being struck between the governments of Iraq and Iran? Something here is badly out of whack.
3) And then there is, as ever, The New York Times itself, which can add this article to its collected works detailing for the world public a whole series of “covert” programs undertaken by the U.S. government in the interest of defending America. This article reports that “several details of the covert effort have been omitted from this account, at the request of senior United States intelligence and administrative officials, to avoid harming continuing operations.”
But that in itself is information; and as to the covert activities described, however widely understood they might already have been — with a wink and a nod — one might guess that this account was read with great interest in Tehran. Why publish it? And why now? Well, it seems that the reporter, David Sanger, put together this account out of his reporting for a book, to be published Tuesday. No doubt this front-page story will help sell copies…
Heck of a way to win a war.