April 3, 2009 | Commentary on Middle East, National Security and Defense

The West Must Stand Up to Tehran

It is not hard to see why President Obama decided to throw a bust of Winston Churchill out of the Oval Office. The great British Prime Minister stood for much the new administration seemingly does not: a determination to stand up to tyrants and dictators, a belief in the use of maximum force to defeat your enemies, and a firm conviction that the United States and Britain are great powers for liberty and freedom that united together will defend the free world.

In contrast, the Obama administration offers an olive branch to Iran, America's biggest enemy in the Middle East, talks about sitting down for a cup of tea with "moderate" elements of the Taliban, remains silent about mass starvation and ethnic cleansing in Zimbabwe, welcomes the fraudulent re-election of Hugo Chavez, and declines to entertain the idea that the West is actually engaged in a global war against Islamist terrorists. At the same time, it downgrades its alliance with its closest ally and mocks the suggestion that Britain is any more important than the other 190 countries of the world.

In his controversial video address last month offering "a new beginning" to "the people and leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran," President Obama delivered one of the most feeble speeches by a U.S. president in modern times, and he is increasingly looking like a soft touch on the world stage. The president did not even refer to Tehran's nuclear program, barely touched on the regime's massive support for terrorism, and made no mention at all of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's talk of wipingIsrael off the face of the earth. Nor did he refer to the widespread human rights violations committed by the Iranian regime including its suppression of women's rights.

The video address was a humiliating approach by the world's only superpower to a vicious tyranny that has been actively involved in the killing of Coalition troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Mullahs of Iran have American and British blood on their hands and deserve to be treated as enemies and not as potential diplomatic partners. Tehran has for several years backed Shiite militias that have fought British and American troops in southern Iraq, and is now reportedly supplying surface-to-air-missiles to the Taliban for use against Allied forces in Afghanistan. This deserves a forceful response, and not platitudes about the greatness of Iranian civilization.

The Iranians responded quickly with thinly-disguised contempt for Obama's overture, demanding that the United States drop its support for bilateral and U.N. sanctions against Tehran, and end its backing for Israel. The speech will do little more than accelerate Iran's nuclear program by convincing the Iranian leadership that Washington will not take aggressive action to stop them.

Iran grows closer to acquiring nuclear capability, and according to Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, it has already amassed sufficient uranium to build an atomic bomb. Mullen's statement at the beginning of the month followed a February report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that revealed that Iran had already stockpiled over a ton of low-enriched uranium, far more than previously estimated.

The United States, Great Britain and key allies in Europe must step up the international pressure on Iran to halt the development of its nuclear program, including the strengthening of United Nations Security Council and European Union sanctions, as well as a complete investment freeze by European firms in Iran's economy and infrastructure. Shamefully, Tehran's biggest economic partner in Europe -- Germany -- continues to conduct a huge amount oftrade with Iran worth over ten billion euros a year, and a staggering 5,000 German companies still do business with the rogue regime. Further moves should also be taken to freeze the assets of Iranian banks, as well as impose visa restrictions on a wider array of Iranian nuclear and military officials.

In addition to sanctions measures, the potential use of military force by both Washington and London as a last resort against Iran's nuclear facilities must be placed firmly on the table. Without a credible military threat in the background and a willingness to use it, the Iranian theocracy is unlikely to back down. A clear signal must be sent that Tehran is playing with fire in pursuing nuclear weapons and that the West is prepared to do whatever is necessary to prevent it.

For the new president, the stakes are extremely high. A nuclear armed Iran run by Islamist fundamentalists would be a nightmare scenario for the United States, with the prospect of an arms race in the Middle East, the possible arming of proxy terrorist groups such as Hizbollah or Hamas with a nuclear weapon, and a deadly threat posed to America's closest ally in the region, Israel. It is a vision of the future that must not be allowed to pass.

If he is to halt the rise of a nuclear-armed Iran, President Obama needs to drop the appeasement of America's enemies and recall the Churchillian spirit. Seventy years on from the rise of fascism in Europe, the free world again faces a totalitarian regime with genocidal ambitions that must be confronted and ultimately defeated.

Nile Gardiner is Director of the Margaret Thatcher Centre for Freedom at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC.

About the Author

Nile Gardiner, Ph.D. Director, Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom
The Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom

First Appeared in Human Events