Iran may be handing the Bush Administration the opportunity to prove to the world that it's capable of behaving more multilaterally, more diplomatically, more legitimately and with more foresight than it did in the run up to the Iraq invasion.
Specifically, Tehran is making noises and taking actions that play right into the hands of an American and European effort to rally the world against the threat of a nuclear Iran. Iran is demanding that the UN Security Council stop investigating its nuclear program. It has said it will not abide by the Security Council's directive that it cease uranium enrichment. It is bragging about new, deadly high-speed sea missiles and other breakthrough new weapons.
In short, Iran is writing the script for a Western drive to rally the world behind the need to contain a menacing country that seems willing to flout the international system for its own greater glory. Yes, Iran has economic and military ties that will cause some to hesitate to lock arms against it. But, as Condi Rice has pointed out, many questioned whether the Russians and Chinese would ever allow Iranian proliferation to be brought before the UNSC. If we and the Europeans tee this up methodically, we can build a broad coalition.
But, as Kevin Drum notes, the Administration is starting to make the exact wrong noises, talking openly of strikes on Iran and letting it leak that at least some in the Pentagon have made up their minds already in favor of an attack. Its playing up links between Tehran and 9/11 and exaggerating Iran's role in the Iraqi insurgency.
"Same song, new verse," Kevin writes. He leaves out "second time, a whole lot worse." It goes without saying that Iran cannot be another Iraq. To avoid that, the Administration needs to do a few things:
- Stay calm and steely-eyed, making it clear to the world that those in the White House, the Pentagon, the party headquarters or wherever who would like to see another invasion for their own reasons are not at -- or close to -- the trigger;
- Work diligently to solder together a consensus on the nature of the Iranian threat and the importance of a forceful, unblinking global response. Ambassadors should be making the rounds in capitals now, bringing forward the evidence and making sure everyone knows that Iran is bringing this upon itself;
- Keeping the threat of military action on the backburner. The military option cannot be off the table. Keeping it on the table is essential to getting other to realize that we won't tolerate open-ended wait-and-see policies. But we need to make clear that while we're ready and able to launch strikes if necessary, we don't want or plan to do so.
- Get the straight facts on Iran's nuclear program, and have them validated by a group that includes American and foreign-born experts with 0 ties to the Administration.
But, of course, making Iran the un-Iraq requires acknowledging that mistakes were made in Iraq. Condi Rice did that this week, but only figuratively. Hopefully someone else will do so soon literally.
Suzanne Nossel is a Senior Fellow at the Security and Peace Initiative, a Joint Project of the Center for American Progress and the Century Foundation. She blogs regularly at www.democracyarsenal.org