It's a good
thing that President Bush has a small-bore domestic agenda this
year, because the stakes could not be higher in the Middle East.
This is the
year when his policy in Iraq either succeeds or fails, with Republican
control of Congress and, possibly, the prospect of impeachment
hanging on the outcome.
This is also
the year when Iran either is stopped from developing nuclear weapons
or succeeds in demonstrating that the world community, led by
the United States, is utterly feckless.
the year when a terrorist group, Hamas, takes over control of
the Palestinian Authority and the world, again led by the U.S.,
decides whether to force the new regime toward peace or let it
consolidate and prepare for war.
news, perhaps, is that Bush has changed foreign policies in his
second term and is now less isolated from other countries. The
danger is that multilateral diplomacy will bog down and let enemies
like Iran carry the day.
much to say that Iran has replaced Iraq as the central crisis
point for the administration, but it has achieved almost equal
Iran's extremist government is not only defying the world community
in developing nuclear weapons, but is highly influential in Iraq
and is allied with Hamas and will try to undermine whatever economic
pressure the U.S. tries to bring to force accommodation with Israel.
Islamist president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, traveled to Syria in
January and not only sealed an alliance with that terrorist-aiding
regime, but also met with leaders of Hizbollah, Islamic Jihad
and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
way to know whether worldwide rioting over European cartoons depicting
the Prophet Mohammed emerged from those meetings, but there's
little doubt that Iran and Syria encouraged them. The worst outbreaks
occurred in countries where their influence and the terrorist
apparatus are strongest: Iran, Lebanon, Syria, Afghanistan, Sudan
If Iran develops
nuclear weapons with radical Islamists at the helm, there is every
danger that it will actually use them against Israel - a country
that Ahmadinejad has said should be wiped off the face of the
earth - or employ them to intimidate neighbors and deter retaliation
for terrorist activities or aggression, or hand them off to a
terrorist group. It's the world's most dire nightmare.
administration is operating on the assumption that Iran is still
"years" away from having deliverable nuclear weapons,
although International Atomic Energy Agency Director Mohammed
El-Baradei said it would be "months" once Iran begins
has adopted a different foreign policy approach in dealing with
Iran from the one that led to the Iraq war - from one dominated
by "neo-conservatives" to one led by "neo-realists,"
as the Wall Street Journal dubbed them.
of State Condoleezza Rice in the lead, the administration is pursuing
multilateral diplomacy, not unilateral action, in its efforts
to contain Iran. Remarkably, Rice earlier this month got Russia
and China to join the U.S. and Europe in referring Iran to the
United Nations Security Council - the first step toward imposing
sanctions on Iran if it persists in violating the Nuclear Nonproliferation
of being battered by Democrats for being "unilateralist"
and "arrogant" toward allies, the administration got
hit by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) for "outsourcing"
Iran diplomacy. Clinton obviously is running for president in
2008 by trying to move to the right of the Bush administration
and others in her party.
seems to believe that diplomacy can bring Iran to heel, either
through the threat of sanctions or sanctions themselves. It's
banking on Iran's economic dependency on foreign investment and
gasoline imports, its reluctance to be internationally isolated
- and the world's willingness to actually get tough on Iran.If
diplomacy fails, the administration will be forced to decide whether
to use military force against Iran's nuclear facilities or allow
Israel to use U.S.-supplied F-16s and bunker-buster bombs to do
so. The consequences could be $100-a-barrel oil, rampant terrorism
and a demand from Iraq's Shiite-dominated government that U.S.
troops leave the country.
critics charge that because U.S. forces are tied down in Iraq,
they can't credibly threaten Iran. But it's also plausible that
Bush's invasion of Iraq demonstrates U.S. willingness to use force
when it has to.
would seem to be necessary in Iran's case to build a case for
military action, because Iran has not been subject to the decade
of sanctions that were applied to Iraq prior to the 2003 invasion.
In the meantime,
Iraq still does not have a government, insurgents are crippling
reconstruction and incidents of violence seem to be rising. White
House officials acknowledge that developments in Iraq dominate
the public's attitude toward Bush, creating gloom even about a
no large domestic initiatives on tap for this year such as Social
Security reform. That's good. This year, his presidency is riding
on foreign policy.
Kondracke is the Executive Editor of Roll Call.