Cheney Is Resolute, But Are We?

Dick Cheney gave a wonderful speech before AIPAC in Washington yesterday; the transcript is here. Press accounts focused on what Cheney said about Iran, but the speech as a whole is excellent, and I recommend reading it all.
Here is the section on Iran:

America supports, as well, the democratic aspirations of the people of Iran. (Applause.) Iranians have endured a generation of repression at the hands of a fanatical regime. That regime is one of the world’s primary state sponsors of terror. The current President has spoken openly of wiping Israel off the map, and of a world without America. He’s made despicable statements doubting the crimes of the Nazis, aligning himself with the rest of the fantasy-world Holocaust deniers.
The regime in Tehran also continues to defy the world with its nuclear ambitions. Of course, this matter may soon go before the U.N. Security Council. The Iranian regime needs to know that if it stays on its present course, the international community is prepared to impose meaningful consequences. (Applause.) For our part, the United States is keeping all options on the table in addressing the irresponsible conduct of the regime. (Applause.) And we join other nations in sending that regime a clear message: We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon. (Applause.)
The people of Iran can be absolutely certain that we respect them, their country, and their long history as a great civilization — and we stand with them. Iranians desire and deserve to be free from tyranny and oppression in their own homeland. Freedom in the Middle East requires freedom for the Iranian people — and America looks forward to the day when our Nation can be the closest of friends with a free and democratic Iran. (Applause.)

Those are bold words. But can the administration possibly be serious about not “allowing Iran to have a nuclear weapon”? It seems obvious that military action will be necessary to prevent the Mullahs from going nuclear. That means us, alone, since the Europeans have neither the stomach nor, perhaps, the military muscle to contribute to the effort. No doubt Iran’s nuclear program could be set back, if not ended, with a series of bombings. But the consequences of such attacks are impossible to foresee. Hysteria in the Muslim world would be off the charts; compare bombings of Iran, with endless coverage of the inevitable civilian casualties not just on al Jazeera, but in the New York TImes and on CNN International, to publication of a series of cartoons. How would Iran’s government react? Who knows? Presumably it would start by stepping up its efforts to destabilize Iraq. It may also do its best to carry out or facilitate terrorist attacks inside the United States. And domestically, I suspect that most Americans have no more stomach for taking on a new adversary in the Middle East than the Europeans. So the political consequences, while hard to foresee, would in all likelihood be bad.
Still, the administration is nothing if not resolute. In yesterday’s speech, Cheney said:

Ladies and gentlemen, one of the basic truths of the world we live in today is that George W. Bush is a man of his word.

Hard as it is to believe that the administration is prepared to take military action against Iran, it is equally hard to imagine that its strong words on Iran are insincere. And taking action against Iran would certainly be consistent with the rationale of the Iraq war. One of the reasons for deposing Saddam was the fear that his regime might equip terrorist groups with weapons of mass destruction. That rationale applies, with more or less equal force, to Iran’s Mullahs, who unquestionably are pursuing nuclear weapons, and equally unquestionably are major sponsors of terrorism.
If the administration does act against Iran’s nuclear program, it will be interesting to see how American liberals respond. Will the Mullahs suddenly be transformed into innocents with no known “operational relationship” with al Qaeda? We may soon find out.


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