The Words Are Not Enough

In the lewdly satiric film Team America, North Korean strongman Kim Jong Il and U.N. inspector Hans Blix have this fictional dialogue about weapons of mass destruction:

Blix: I’m sorry, but the U.N. must be firm with you. Let me see your whole palace or else.


Kim: Or else what?

Blix: Or else we will be very, very angry with you. And we will write you a letter telling you how angry we are.

The world is in the midst of a real crisis with Iran. Will we write its leaders a letter telling them how angry we are? Or will be do something that even remotely borders on effectiveness?

Last week, when Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad addressed the United Nations, rallies both here and across the nation protested Iran’s persecution of citizens and its push for nuclear weapons. The very next day at the G20 conference in Pittsburgh, President Obama announced that the international community had knowledge of a previously undisclosed uranium enrichment plan in Qom, Iran.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy were alongside Obama, as the three leaders announced that they were giving Iran two months to comply with international demands to come clean on its growing nuclear program or face broader sanctions, which might include targeting Iran’s gasoline imports. At the St. Louis rally Thursday, a spokesman for U.S. Senator Christopher (Kit) Bond described the proposed Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act, which would give President Obama the power to impose strong sanctions on Iran’s importation of gasoline.

Moreover, President Obama indicated that Russian President Dmitri Medvedev had given indications of support for strong sanctions against Iran if the talks this week among the United States, Britain, France and Germany and Iranian representatives fail to produce concrete evidence of compliance.

Iran’s first act in response, while mouthing its willingness to cooperate, was to set off long-range missiles that the regime claims can reach Europe and Israel.

So much for words.

For 30 years, the fanatic theocratic regime in Iran has lied and flouted international law, taking the U.S. Embassy hostage, financing and supporting terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, hosting a conference of Holocaust deniers, and threatening to “wipe Israel off the map.” At the same time, it has moved toward developing nuclear weapons to make good on that threat.

But now the world community has starkly objective evidence catching Iran in its lies. This state of events presents perhaps the best opportunity in years to solidify world support against the fundamentalist regime.

One does not need to be a Dick Cheney-like hawk to support swift and effective action in response to the current situation. A consistently deceitful regime that has stated its intent to destroy other nations has secretly constructed a facility to enrich uranium. What more is needed to transform words into conduct?

So what does “swift and effective” action mean? Here opinions may vary but there can be little disagreement about both verifiable inspections and the use of strong economic and political sanctions. Those who say that the effects of such sanctions will inure to the detriment of the citizens of Iran no longer should be given much credence. If the Iranian people were willing to rise up and protest the results of bogus elections at great personal risk, it is hard to imagine they wouldn’t sacrifice to place an economic noose around the regime’s neck.

War? Not the preferred option at this point, especially with the democratic world holding the moral high ground. Violent reactions, always a last resort, have an awkward way of spinning the moral compass in bizarre and inappropriate ways (read: the world condemnation of Israeli self-defense as a last-ditch response to Gazan missiles).

But if Iran does not agree to verifiable inspections, and if sanctions do not work, then who knows what the world response will or should be? The most fruitful part of this unfortunate turn of events is that the world may now see Iran as its problem, not just that of the United States and Israel. With that backdrop, no nation should be expecting the U.S. to act alone or even to take the lead if military conduct is required. World cooperation and collective action is essential against such fundamentalist tyranny.