OpinionIran in the World PressWe can't take chances with Iran

We can’t take chances with Iran

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USA Today: Cal Thomas is a conservative columnist. Bob Beckelis a liberal Democratic strategist. But as longtime friends, they can often find common ground on issues that lawmakers in Washington cannot.
Today: The growing diplomatic crisis with Iran over its nuclear program.
USA Today

Cal Thomas is a conservative columnist. Bob Beckelis a liberal Democratic strategist. But as longtime friends, they can often find common ground on issues that lawmakers in Washington cannot.

Today: The growing diplomatic crisis with Iran over its nuclear program.

Cal: While Iraq continues to divide the country — and us, too — Iran is another matter. If I believed in reincarnation, Bob, I’d say that Hitler is back and living in Tehran. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is scary enough, but if he gets his hands on nuclear weapons, he’ll be a threat to the world. Ahmadinejad thinks Israel should be wiped off the map, denies the Holocaust occurred and welcomes Armageddon as a way to usher in a Shiite Islamic messiah figure.

Bob: Between inciting the world’s 1.25 billion Muslims over a few, although distasteful, cartoons in a Danish newspaper, and now refusing further inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran has become the most evil of the Bush “Axis of Evil” countries. You’re right, we still don’t agree on the Iraq war, but if there is any positive effect of our being in the region militarily, it’s that we’re positioned on Iran’s border.

Cal: Your side has said we can’t fight evil everywhere, and so I’m surprised to hear you rattling sabers. In fact, you must have borrowed the sabers from someone else because you usually sound like a pacifist. Whatever happened to diplomacy, the United Nations and sanctions, Bob? You sound like Rambo. Are you suggesting we invade Iran when Iraq is far from being stabilized and able to defend itself?

Bob: Not with ground forces. That would cause far too many U.S. casualties. But we have our most advanced weapons systems in the region, including bunker-busting bombs, and should consider using that arsenal to attack Iran’s nuclear capability. U.S. intelligence sources say Iran is at least four years away from developing a deliverable nuclear warhead missile, but they’re basing this assertion on information provided by the same crowd that culled the lousy data that got us into Iraq.

Cal: Indeed, bunker-busting bombs work only when you know the location of the bunker. But I’m guessing Israel has far better intelligence on the location of nuclear sites in Iran than it did about weaponry in Iraq. And I trust it is sharing that data with the U.S. government. Even so, don’t we play into the hands of Osama bin Laden and his like-minded lunatics if we attack Iran — especially if we don’t take out all of the nukes yet kill civilians in the process? Are we destined to go it alone, again?

Bob: We shouldn’t have to, Cal. Israeli intelligence suggests that Iran may be less than a year away from the bomb. As we both know, there is no better intelligence in the Mideast than the Israeli Mossad. It would seem logical that Israel, with the most to lose, should initiate strikes, but can you imagine the uproar if Israel attacked? With Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on his death bed, and Hamas in control of Gaza and much of the West Bank, the timing couldn’t be worse for Israel to take the lead.

Cal: Israel will be attacked no matter what it does or doesn’t do, but here’s an idea: It’s past time to persuade our allies to start behaving like allies. The French, Germans and Russians have been on the receiving end of a lot of U.S. money, and in the case of all of Europe, America’s nuclear “umbrella” during the Cold War. These countries need to start cooperating by helping to pay for the cost of freedom. That means if we’re going after Iran’s nuclear sites, any U.S. bombers and fighters should be joined by French and German planes. Maybe the Danes can drop some cartoons on them for good measure (which would be about as effective as U.N. resolutions)! But perhaps a larger question, Bob, is the one I raised: Won’t we further enflame anti-American hatred in the Muslim world if we bomb Iran?

Bob: Of course, but frankly, so what? Better to have them condemn us yet again than to allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons. We don’t have to destroy all of Iran’s nuclear capability — just enough of the infrastructure to set the program back several years. The center of the war on terror is not in Iraq, but across the border in Iran. Iraqi terrorists are building roadside bombs, but Iranians are building nukes. That’s another reason to wrap up our business in Iraq and get on with the real war on terror. We must turn to Iran.

Cal: We keep hearing about a youth revolution there that is being suppressed by the mullahs. Let’s feed that sort of dissent. In fact, Condoleezza Rice asked Congress last week for $75 million to pressure the Iranian government. That’s not a bad start. If there is any way we can encourage such a revolution, we ought to. No future Iranian leadership could be worse than the current bunch. Every day brings another defiant declaration. We don’t have the luxury of waiting very much longer.

Bob: We’ve been hearing about the so-called youth revolution in Iran for years now, but where is it? Reports out of Iran indicate that university students are among the strongest advocates of Iran having the right to develop nuclear weapons. Are these students the revolutionaries?

Cal: Well, Bob, as the situation in Iran has escalated, perhaps I’m hopeful that the next generation of Iranians can move beyond the current cycle of hatred and reckless rhetoric.

Bob: Here’s where I’m hopeful: We can hope the world unites against Iran, that effective U.N. sanctions would be implemented (even though Ahmadinejad told USA TODAY last week that sanctions would have no effect) and that forces of moderation inside Iran will emerge as a power bloc. But that is all just that — hope. When it comes to nukes, hope won’t cut it.

Cal: You’ve convinced me, Bob. London’s Telegraph newspaper reported recently that Pentagon strategists are drawing up plans for “devastating” raids on Iran, to be backed by ballistic missiles launched from submarines toward Iranian nuclear sites. The newspaper says such an attack would be a “last resort.” The next-to-last resort is diplomacy. But Iran, like Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, will probably fake compliance with U.N. resolutions in order to buy time. They must not be allowed to play that game.

Bob: Not only that, but Ahmadinejad has now threatened to walk away from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Cal: What many people don’t know about that treaty, which Iran signed, is that any country can renounce it with just three months notice. That means that even if Iran isn’t building nuclear weapons, it could legally do so 90 days after renouncing the treaty. There’s a reform begging to be made, wouldn’t you agree?

Bob: I would, but I don’t think it matters to the Madman of Tehran. How’s this for Common Ground? Let’s give the U.N. and the international community more time to see whether Iran will submit to nuclear inspections by allowing the International Atomic Energy Agency to return. Let’s try serious sanctions backed by the U.N. But if in the next nine months or so Iran continues to develop nuclear weapons, we must attack its nuclear infrastructure. If history has taught us anything, it’s that if we let madmen like Ahmadinejad go unchecked, tragic consequences will follow. The stakes this time are simply too high.

Cal: Agreed, Bob. It’s nice to see you thinking, unpredictably, as a hawk on this one.

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