Welcoming the leaders of 47 nations to Washington to discuss what he called “an unprecedented threat,” President Obama described in ominous terms the potential for nuclear terrorism. “Just the smallest amount of plutonium — about the size of an apple — could kill and injure hundreds of thousands of innocent people.” The possibility that a terrorist group could get its hands on a nuclear weapon is, the president added, “the single biggest threat to U.S. security, both short term, medium term, and long term” [sic].
At the conclusion of the conference, when everyone had agreed to voluntary measures to secure loose nukes, the president pronounced himself very satisfied and confident that the world will make “enormous progress” on controlling nuclear proliferation.
Talk about whistling past the graveyard! The administration assembled an elaborate tableau to feign progress on nuclear proliferation while patently failing to grapple with the most obvious, ominous, and imminent threat — Iran.
Let’s assume that President Obama was sincere when he described a nuke in the hands of a terrorist as the greatest threat facing the United States. How does he imagine that threat might materialize? Participants in the “nuclear security summit” blathered on about securing nuclear materials and monitoring uranium and plutonium supplies. That’s nice. But the likeliest route for a terrorist to obtain a nuclear bomb would be for a nuclear-armed Iran simply to hand it over. And Iran is enriching its own uranium. That’s what all those centrifuges at Natanz and elsewhere are spinning away at.
For decades, diplomats and policymakers have comforted themselves with the belief that Iran is a normal, status quo state rather than an ideological, revolutionary power. The Carter administration made repeated efforts to conciliate Iran. Shortly after the revolution, Secretary of State Cyrus Vance expressed his eagerness to “combat the mistrust” between the two nations. Even after the Iranians had flagrantly violated sacrosanct diplomatic traditions by seizing and holding American embassy personnel, the Carter administration extended diplomatic feelers, designating Ramsey Clark and William Miller to approach the mullahs. They flew to Turkey but were denied permission to enter Iran.
The Reagan administration famously traded arms to Iran in an effort to free the hostages held by Iranian surrogates in Lebanon, and President Clinton apologized to them for the Mossadegh coup and other supposed American sins. The Europeans engaged in a protracted negotiation to urge Iran (“with lots of carrots”) to suspend its nuclear-weapons program. This culminated in a triumphant 2006 claim by Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Hasan Rowhani, that “when we were negotiating with the Europeans in Tehran, we were installing equipment in parts of the [nuclear] facility in Isfahan.”
Iran is not a normal state eager for international recognition and bilateral negotiations. As Dore Gold documents inThe Rise of Nuclear Iran, Iran is revolutionary state with ambitions to dominate not just the entire region but the whole Muslim world. To that end, it has engaged in sustained terrorist violence under a variety of guises.
That Hezbollah is an Iranian creation is well known. Less well understood is that Iran created a number of other cover organizations — Islamic Jihad, the Revolutionary Justice Organization, and others. Through these surrogates, Iran perpetrated a series of terrorist attacks on the United States and other Western nations, starting with the attack on the U.S. embassy in Beirut in 1983 and continuing with the suicide truck-bomb attack on U.S. Marines at Beirut Airport later that same year; the kidnapping, torture, and murder of CIA station chief William Buckley; the 1984 bombing of a restaurant near a U.S. Air Force base in Spain, which killed 18 U.S. servicemen; the hijacking of Kuwaiti Air Flight 221, in which a USAID worker was murdered and dropped on the tarmac; the hijacking of TWA Flight 847 and the murder of Robert Dean Stethem; the kidnapping of 96 Western hostages in Lebanon; and on and on.
Nor has Iran shrunk from cooperating with Sunni terrorists such as al-Qaeda. In May 2003, al-Qaeda exploded truck bombs in a Riyadh neighborhood known to house foreigners. Seventeen Americans were killed. Intercepted communications revealed that the attacks were coordinated from Iran. As the 9/11 Commission report clarified, Iran has enjoyed a longstanding relationship with al-Qaeda.
More than three-quarters of the members of Congress and 76 senators have called upon the president to fulfill his 2008 promise to “do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.” That’s a vote of no confidence.
The nuclear-security dog-and-pony show represents a pathetic preference for image over substance and will be remembered as one of the most shameful abdications of this presidency.