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One down, two to go?
By Steven Martinovich
The problem with publicly identifying your enemies, as U.S. President George W. Bush may learn, is you may actually have to do something about them. The United States has already spectacularly dealt with one member of Bush's Axis of Evil, leaving Iran and North Korea on the to-do list with plenty of people waiting to check those rogues off as well. Whether he likes it or not, Iran may end up forcing his hand into a third war during his first term.
Unfortunately for doves, Iran is doing everything it can to prompt a war with the United States. After denying that any al-Qaida personnel were in the country, it finally admitted to holding several members of the terrorist organization. Not only are Iranian efforts to round-up the terrorists half-hearted at best, it seems that they were given refuge by government officials.
More worrisome is Iran's race to develop nuclear weapons. An Iranian opposition group alleges that the government is building two secret nuclear sites not far from Tehran, possibly already partially operational, to produce enriched uranium that could be used to build a nuclear weapon as soon as 2005. Those secret sites are in addition to two other nuclear sites that the Iranian government only acknowledged after the National Council of Resistance of Iran revealed their existence last year.
Along with that threat, Iran continues to press forward with other weapons programs. In 2000 a CIA expert told a U.S. Senate committee that the Iranian government is interested in acquiring biological and chemical weapons and is in the late stages of perfecting its Shahab-3 medium range missile, one capable of reaching Israel and most of Saudi Arabia and Turkey. In about a decade, thanks to help from Russia, North Korea, and China, Iran could test an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of delivering a nuclear payload to the United States – if someone doesn't sell them a complete system first.
Given Iran's multitude of connections to international terrorist groups such developments should be more than simply disquieting. While it doesn't pose as clear of a danger to its neighbors as Iraq did, Iran's willing support of terrorism represents a global danger. It's not a far reach to imagine that the ship the Israeli Navy intercepted on January 3, 2002 loaded with 50 tons of advanced weaponry for the Palestinian Authority thoughtfully provided by Iran and Hezbollah had contained nuclear weapons instead of rockets, rifles, mortar shells, mines and anti-tank missiles.
What may accelerate the push towards war is a visit in June to Iran by inspectors with the International Atomic Energy Agency. They will inspect Iran's known nuclear facilities and if they find it is in violation of its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty commitments the issue will pop up eventually before the U.N. Security Council. It's doubtful that the U.S. will give Iran 12 years to live up to its obligations as the United Nations gave Iraq.
For all the good arguments for going to war against Iran the Bush administration would be advised to wait before acting. The U.S. faces long-term rebuilding efforts in both Afghanistan and Iraq and adding Iran to that list, a nation that sits directly in between the other two, would diffuse those efforts. While Iran hardly poses any threat if an invasion does proceed, its military is probably even worse off than Iraq's was, it's simply too much to ask the U.S. to rebuild three nations at once.
More importantly, however, the U.S. must give time for internal elements to attempt to push the government towards a more moderate direction. The average age of Iranians is under 30 and many don't have any fondness for the revolution that swept the Islamic clerics into power. They are nominally pro-American and are tired of the slow pace of reform and continued restrictions on social and political freedoms. While President Mohammad Khatami may not be the man to ultimately liberalize Iran, that doesn't mean that another won't take his place to take the street protests to the next level.
Iran's threat to global security can't be minimized. Its actions in the past have justified its status as a rogue nation and there's little reason to believe that this leopard will change its spots. Despite that, the U.S. can afford to wait to see how the political situation in Iran will change over the next few years. With a stronger Iraq and Afghanistan bordering Iran, the U.S. will be in a far stronger position to begin exerting real influence over the mullahs who are seemingly intent on becoming the next tyranny to be deposed by America and its allies.
Steven Martinovich is a freelance writer in Sudbury, Ontario.
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