Has President Bush quietly concluded that the United States can live with a nuclear-armed Iran? If this seems preposterous, recall the president's words at his year-end news conference. Asked about U.S. policy toward Iran, he said: "We're relying upon others, because we've sanctioned ourselves out of influence with Iran . . . in other words, we don't have much leverage with the Iranians right now."
This bizarre statement obviously does not portend the president's born-again conversion to multilateralism. Rather, it is a false assessment of U.S. influence and a potentially deadly recipe for U.S. acquiescence to a nuclear Iran.
Consider what's at stake. Oil-rich Iran is arguably the world's most active state sponsor of terrorism. Iran was behind the 1996 bombing of the U.S. military barracks at Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia. It is funding anti-Israeli terrorist groups, harboring al Qaeda operatives and meddling in Iraq. Iran clandestinely built a sophisticated uranium enrichment program that the United States and European nations agree is intended to produce nuclear weapons. Iran has missiles capable of delivering such weapons to Iraq, Israel and even parts of Europe.
President Bush says the greatest threat to U.S. national security is a nuclear weapon in the hands of terrorists. A nuclear Iran, not Saddam Hussein's Iraq, is a truly dangerous manifestation of that threat.
So how has the Bush administration acted to protect us? Overstretched with 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq and paralyzed by internal policy disputes, the administration's response has been to posture, threatening to take Iran to the U.N. Security Council, while effectively having no Iran policy at all.
In response to one of the most urgent threats to the United States, Bush has subcontracted American security to the Europeans. Last week the president confirmed this as his approach, arguing that the United States has no choice. "We've sanctioned ourselves out of influence," the president said, almost echoing Vice President Cheney, who as chief executive of Halliburton pressed for lifting U.S. sanctions against Iran.