September 13, 2004 | Commentary on National Security and Defense

Persian Power

The Bush administration is actually pursuing a vigorous, multilateral (yes, multilateral) policy for grappling with the growing Iranian threat - though you certainly wouldn't know it from the critics.

The Kerry campaign is (no surprise) probably the most fickle, moving from position to position to see which sound-bite gets the most traction.

Last December, John Kerry told an audience at the left-leaning Council on Foreign Relations: "The Bush administration stubbornly refuses to conduct a realistic, non-confrontational policy with Iran, even where it may be possible...As president, I will be prepared early on to explore areas of mutual interest with Iran, just as I was prepared to normalize relations with Vietnam a decade ago."

In March, campaign aide Rand Beers revised Kerry's stance on Iran with the announcement: "John Kerry is not saying he is looking for better relations with Iran. He is looking for a dialogue with Iran."

Most recently, Kerry foreign-policy adviser Susan Rice charged that "the Bush administration has stood on the sidelines while [Iran's]...nuclear program has advanced." Rice continued: "It is past time for the [Bush] administration to develop a tough and effective strategy for dealing with Iran - and to show real leadership when it comes to addressing the most dangerous threats this country faces."

So there you have it: The administration is too hard, too soft and has no Iran policy at all. What a bunch of hooey!

But with the International Atomic Energy Agency gearing up to meet today on Iran's nuclear (weapons) program in Vienna, it's a good time to take stock of what the White House is doing to deal with the rising Persian power:

* Iraq and Afghanistan: Nothing is more powerful than the power of example. And sowing the seeds of democracy in Iran's eastern and western neighbors will have a major effect on Iran's future.

The repressive Iranian clerics are shaking in their robes at the thought of upcoming democratic elections in the former snake pits of Iraq and Afghanistan - and the inspiring effect it will have on Iranian youth, yearning for political reform. Success in Iraq will also reduce Iran's radical sway over Shi'ites there - and worldwide. (America's new Persian-language service - Radio Farda - will ensure they are informed of the developments abroad.)

Iran is the world's most active state sponsor of terrorism. And liberalizing the repressive, fundamentalist Iranian regime will loosen Tehran's embrace of international terrorism once and for all.

* Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD): In the coming months, the United States will field the first elements of a national defense against ballistic missiles.

BMD will protect the homeland at first, but eventually will be deployable around the world, diminishing the threat from the likes of Iranian (and North Korean) nukes.

* Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI): America is leading a 60-nation effort to shore up flagging nonproliferation treaties by taking a more proactive approach to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction and missiles.

The PSI interdicts ships, planes and trucks that carry materials, which contribute to the development or production of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. Iran's nuclear program is certainly in the PSI's crosshairs.

* The European Union initiative: The White House is also supporting the efforts of France, Germany and Britain to end Iran's nuclear activities.

Those E.U. labors are likely to fail, but supporting the diplomatic initiative lays the groundwork for promoting more drastic measures later on, such as U.N. economic sanctions or military action. (The United States also has low-level contacts with the Iranians via U.N. channels in New York and elsewhere.)

No doubt: Dealing with Iran is tough. The options are limited. But it's clear that the administration does have a comprehensive policy for dealing with the growing Iranian challenge.

Critics may carp about the Bush's Iran policy, but it has done more than any previous administration to contain Iranian power and threats to American interests and international security. And, fortunately, it's also the most likely to achieve the desired result - an open, terrorism-free, non-nuclear Iran.

Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow. E-mail: peterbrookes@heritage.org

About the Author

Peter Brookes Senior Fellow, National Security Affairs
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy

First appeared in the New York Post