Now Bush Is Appeasing
On May 31, 2006, Condoleezza
Rice drew a red line in front of Tehran's nuclear enrichment program. "The
Iranian government's choices are clear," she said. "The negative
choice is for the regime to maintain its current course. . . . If the regime
does so, it will incur only great costs." She also offered an olive
branch: "As soon as Iran fully and verifiably suspends its enrichment and
reprocessing activities, the United States will come to the table with our EU-3
colleagues and meet with Iran's representatives."
Two years later, Iranian
officials have installed more than 3,000 centrifuges in a facility designed to
hold 50,000. On July 9, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) tested
missiles which could reach Israel; the same day, Iranian Web sites carried
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's pledge to launch a satellite, an event that
would demonstrate a mastery of intercontinental ballistic missile technology.
Nevertheless, just 10 days later, Undersecretary of State William Burns joined
envoys from France, Britain, Russia, China and Germany in talks with Saeed
Jalili -- Iran's nuclear negotiator and an Ahmadinejad confidant -- about
incentives to give to Tehran.
The package already on offer is
rich. The Bush administration has promised to support Iranian construction of a
light-water reactor and provide it with nuclear fuel. In addition, the U.S.
will help overhaul of Iran's energy infrastructure and cooperate in
high-technology industries. At any point, Tehran can simply walk away, keeping
European diplomats welcome the
U.S. reversal. "The presence of an American is good news," French
Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said. "France has always said that not
only sanctions need to be imposed, dialogue is necessary." Iran is less
kind. "America has no choice but to leave the Middle East beaten and humiliated,"
says Mohammad Jafar Assadi, chief of the IRGC ground forces.
Diplomacy is not wrong, but
President Bush's reversal is diplomatic malpractice on a Carter-esque level
that is breathing new life into a failing regime.
The Iranian government has
spent billions of dollars -- money that might have been better spent on
refineries and gas turbine power plants -- on a nuclear program that has failed
to produce a single kilowatt of electricity.
Now, as the regime rations fuel
and the city institutes roving blackouts, Iranians realize the price of the
Islamic Republic's adventurism.
Even with record oil prices,
mismanagement has driven the Iranian economy into the ground. On July 14, the
Ministry of Housing reported an "historical" 125% rise in housing
prices. The same day, Tabnak, a news Web site run by a former head of the IRGC,
admitted foodstuff inflation had reached 50% annually. On July 8, 2008, a
National Iranian Oil Company executive acknowledged in the Iranian press that,
without significant investment in infrastructure, Iranian oil production would
decline each year by 300,000 barrels a day. But those investments are not
coming from abroad. Almost every headline-grabbing energy contract remains
Nor is oil Iran's only flagging
industry. According to the Iranian press, carpet exports have dropped 10% and
pollution has decimated the caviar-producing sturgeon in the Caspian Sea.
State-owned factories owe workers weeks of back wages. Bus driver Mansour
Ossanlou, Iran's Lech Walesa, remains in prison after forming the republic's
first independent trade union. In the past month alone, Iranian workers have
struck for unpaid wages at the Khodro automotive plant (which assembles
Peugeots), the Alburz Tire Company, and the Haft Tapeh Sugar Cane factory.
The State Department places its
about-face in the context of multilateralism. This is nonsense. By agreeing to
suspend its demand for a cessation of uranium enrichment, Washington is
signaling to Tehran that it need not adhere to three current U.N. Security
Council resolutions. Rather than reinforce diplomacy, the White House reveals
that its red lines are illusionary.
While European diplomats hope
regime pragmatists might reinject responsibility in the Iranian debate, Ms.
Rice's State Department has bolstered Ahmadinejad and his fellow travelers. As
Ahmadinejad begins his re-election campaign, he can say he has successfully
brought Washington to its knees through blunt defiance, murder of U.S. troops
in Iraq, and Holocaust denial. Should he win re-election in 2009, he will have
Mr. Bush's whiplash diplomacy to thank for his greatest -- and, given the state
of his economy, perhaps only -- victory.
Michael Rubin, a resident
scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, is editor of the Middle East Quarterly.
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