Friday, April 14, 2006

Iran What W Should Do

John Podhoretz, New York Post:
It appears that, for the first time since the heady days of unity after 9/11, there is an overwhelming consensus in both political parties on a foreign-policy matter of pressing concern to this country. Democrats and Republicans are on record as saying that something must be done to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power.

If the Iranian government is telling the truth when it says it has begun enriching uranium, then the only thing in dispute is just how long it will take Iran to build and deploy a full-scale nuclear weapon.

Press accounts indicate the U.S. intelligence community believes it will take Iran a decade to do so - but, given the recent record of the U.S. intelligence community, it's probably wise to maintain some skepticism about the accuracy of its predictive powers.

Which means we can't comfort ourselves with the thought that we have 10 years to play around with.

What can be done? No one's sure. Advocates of a military solution must acknowledge grave difficulties. Nobody seems to know just where Iran's nuclear facilities are located. We'd have to guess, to some degree, and to make sure we attacked the right place, we'd have to hit multiple targets. That would mean, by definition, that we'd hit locations that aren't part of the nuke program, probably killing hundreds and maybe thousands of innocent people in the process.

At the same time, we've spent years engaged in a complex and sophisticated diplomatic process with European countries and Russia taking the lead in negotiating with Iran because they have better relations and more contacts there. And that has gotten us exactly nothing, and led us exactly nowhere but to the point we're at right now.

No wonder the great and not-so-unspoken fantasy is that Israel, which clearly has the most to lose from a nuclear Iran, will act. That would take the heat off the United States, let Israel be subjected to the world's condemnation and save everybody who whines about it from the danger.

Israeli intelligence is probably better than ours, but there's no indication it knows any better where to send its planes. And unless it can cripple Iran's program beyond repair, Israel would place itself in imminent danger of a counterstrike with that overt act of war.

There is one, and only one, advantage to this terrifyingly difficult situation: It may allow the partisan stalemate on foreign policy to be broken. President Bush and Howard Dean agree on very little save that Iran can't be allowed to go nuclear. So - and this is an entirely serious proposal - let them break bread together on the subject.

The president should invite leading Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill, sooner rather than later, to Camp David for a major policy summit with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld and Intelligence Director John Negroponte. He could say, very plainly, that the United States faces a crisis and that it would be in the best interest of the nation and the world for there to be a bipartisan consensus on what to do about Iran. READ MORE

He should have officials from the CIA, Defense Intelligence and the National Security Agency offer serious briefings on what we know and don't know about the situation. And then he should lead a series of no-holds-barred conversations about the possible options and ways forward.

This is a sensible idea for several reasons. First: The president has only 32 months left to serve in office, and lacks an anointed or even putative successor. Iran will be a challenge for the foreseeable future; he should attempt to give both parties ownership of a policy that can survive him.

Second, by seeking bipartisanship in the most open possible way at this relatively early moment in the confrontation, Bush might ensure that recalcitrant elements in the military and the diplomatic corps won't be able to hijack the policymaking.

Finally, as your grandmother said about trying chicken soup to help cure a cold: Maybe an Iran summit wouldn't help, but when it comes to a situation this fluid and complex, it really couldn't hurt.