Saturday, April 09, 2005

Searching for WMD? Look No Further than Iran

Mary Baldwin, The New Leader:
Since 2001, the search to create a more secure United States has led President Bush to focus on dangers posed by terrorists who might mount a new attack using weapons of mass destruction. Improved border, airport, and port security has been joined to a foreign policy focused on two important goals: spreading democracy and disarming rogue states that might pass WMD to the terrorists.

After the swift elimination of the terrorists' safe harbor in Afghanistan in 2001, and the equally swift removal of Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, further steps toward disarming the rogues have been few. Libya voluntarily gave up its extensive WMD programs shortly after Hussein's capture in December 2003. But North Korea and Iran, centerpieces of Bush's famous "axis of evil" speech in 2002, remain problematic. North Korea openly and repeatedly has declared itself now to have nuclear bombs, a claim that seems certain to divert us from taking an Iraq-like road to deal with them.

Iran also remains a problem, for here we confront an Islamic regime that denies it has WMD much like the Hussein regime denied it had WMD prior to its 2003 overthrow. A new presidential report from the "Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction," released in late March, confirms what the CIA's Charles Duelfer had found last September: Iraq did not have WMD. Much like the skeptical voice of the United Nations' Hans Blix prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, so today does the U.N.' International Atomic Energy Agency contend that no proof of Iran's nuclear WMD exists.

America's reputation, not merely that of its intelligence agencies, was badly damaged when no WMD turned up in Iraq. Too narrowly was the case for war with Iraq made: Its human rights violations and its open involvement in international terrorism were also sound grounds upon which to have made the case for removal of Saddam Hussein. The post-war transformation of Iraq into a democracy, faltering as that process is from time to time, may yet salvage the U.S. effort there. But there are lessons to be learned in this which can guide policy toward the remaining members of the "axis of evil."

Iran is deeply involved in international terrorism, and has a human rights record that makes Achilles' heel look like a steel-soled boot. Regarding terrorism, the tie goes right to the top: In January 2005, "Supreme Leader" Ali Khamenei reminded the world of Iran's terrorist intentions when he again referred to British author Salman Rushdie as under an order for "capital punishment." The murder of Rushdie — a British resident who never has been Iranian — first was demanded in 1989 by Khamenei's predecessor, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, after Rushdie wrote a book, "The Satanic Verses," that Khomeini found to defame Islam. But terroristic threats are not all that links the Islamic Republic of Iran to terrorism. Recently, Hamid Reza Zakiri, a senior official in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, defected to the West and confirmed Iranian ties to the bombing of the U.S. Embassy and Marines' barracks in Beirut, Lebanon in 1983. Zakiri also described meetings of Iranian officials with al-Qaida operatives prior to the 9/11 attacks, and named the Iranian-funded terrorist who served as liaison to Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, the number two man in al-Qaida. READ MORE

If ties to terrorists, murdering U.S. Marines two decades ago, and continuing to attempt to kill a British resident do not qualify as sufficient grounds to confront the Islamic Republic of Iran, the case of Zahra Kazemi might convince even skeptical readers. Kazemi, a Canadian photojournalist of Iranian heritage, visited Tehran to cover student protests against the ruling mullahs in summer 2003. Arrested, tortured, and killed while in the custody of Iranian security services, the Kazemi case has churned up a kettle of ill will between our neighbors to the north and Iran. In 2003, Iran refused to return Kazemi's body to Canada so her family could have an autopsy performed. In 2004, Iran barred observers from a bogus trial of Kazemi's killer, then acquitted him; Ottawa then recalled its ambassador. Finally, in early April of this year, an Iranian medical doctor, Shahram Azam, defected and described publicly the "horrific" signs of abuse he saw over the entirety of the Canadian woman's body. Azam also stated that Kazemi had been raped while in Iranian custody.

The Zahra Kazemi case illuminates the essence of evil that is the Islamic Republic of Iran. It is a regime that kills opponents, foreign or domestic. It is a regime that has crushed the freedom of Iranian women for decades. It is a regime intimately tied to the most dangerous groups of international terrorists — al-Qaida and Hezbollah. There remains some doubt about whether Iran also is building nuclear WMD. But there already exists a sufficient basis not just to label it "evil." In order to unify America with Canada and the thoughtful among its European friends, what we now need is a coordinated policy to bring pressure leading to a change of regime in Iran.

Write Mary Baldwin College political science Professor Gordon Bowen at