From Tripoli to Tehran
Oct 31, 2011, Vol. 17, No. 07 • By LEE SMITH
Killing Muammar Qaddafi wasn’t easy. What President Obama said would take days wound up taking eight months. At first the administration did not seem to understand that NATO’s objective of protecting the civilians rising up against the Libyan tyrant’s 40-year rule would require capturing or killing the man who was most likely to harm them. Unfortunately, the learning curve here seems to be something of a yardstick for Washington’s understanding of the Middle Eastern state most likely to kill Americans—the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Still, we applaud the White House for at last getting Qaddafi. His execution at the hands of Libyan rebels closes a dark chapter in history, one that saw the murder of hundreds of U.S. citizens in acts of terror sponsored and directed by Qaddafi, including most spectacularly the Lockerbie bombing in 1988. Our thoughts are primarily with the family and friends of those killed by Qaddafi’s agents. The justice they have now is final and cannot be betrayed again, as it was two years ago when Libyan intelligence officer Abdel Basset al-Megrahi was released from a Scottish prison and returned home to a hero’s welcome. Later it became clear that Megrahi’s freedom was the price the British government paid for a prospective oil deal—with the cost borne by the relatives of Qaddafi’s victims.
London, to be sure, played a leading role in the NATO action against Qaddafi. But the Megrahi deal should remind us that our interests do not always align with those of our allies. The point of American leadership is not only that we lead, but that we do so for the purpose of maintaining and advancing American security, especially the protection of U.S. citizens. If this is not a priority for the British, then it is certainly not going to matter to, say, the Russians and Chinese. So why is the Obama administration wasting valuable time seeking support from Moscow and China in its efforts to isolate Iran?
When one considers Qaddafi’s career of anti-American terror, a larger and even more dangerous assault on the United States becomes ever clearer: the Islamic Republic of Iran’s decades-long war against America. Given Tehran’s efforts the last several years in Iraq and Afghanistan, the clerical regime and its Revolutionary Guards cohort are perhaps responsible for more American deaths than Qaddafi. The U.S.-led coalition against Saddam Hussein compelled Qaddafi to abandon his nuclear weapons program. The Iranians have pressed on with theirs.
The White House is rightly proud to have brought down Qaddafi without risking the lives of American ground troops. Libya, the administration believes, is a new model for projecting American power. “What we’re moving towards,” says deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes, “is a far more targeted use of force in which we apply direct power against al Qaeda and those who pose a direct threat to the United States and then galvanize collective action against global security challenges.” But that is not the way it is going to go with Iran. Instead, the United States is going to find itself in a large and destructive conflict with the Islamic Republic.
The plot to kill the Saudi ambassador in a Washington restaurant shows that the Iranians are getting bolder. The bizarre belief that the Drug Enforcement Administration, FBI, and CIA have fundamentally misconstrued the Iranian operation in its details and its provenance shows that American elites have become even more elaborate in their efforts to explain away Iranian intentions and ambitions. In effect, we’ve executed a disinformation campaign against ourselves, in which we keep saying the water that is about to come to a boil is only getting a little warmer. The Iranians, though, see it rather more clearly: The Americans have deterred themselves and will pull back even further once we’ve acquired the bomb.
Iranian aggression and American wishful thinking will bring not peace but war. Hitler was incensed with Chamberlain when the Brits finally went to war after the invasion of Poland: There was nothing in the past behavior of the allies that suggested they would ever do anything but appease the German dictator. We can imagine Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khameini will be similarly furious when we finally take action against the Iranian regime. The Americans did nothing to stop us before, they will rightly note—not when we bombed their embassy in Beirut and the Marine barracks, not in Iraq, not in Afghanistan, not when we plotted to kill the Saudi envoy regardless of American casualties in the U.S. capital.
One day soon, however, the Iranians will cross the line, and the American president will have no choice but to retaliate—even if the Iranians have the bomb. There won’t be time then for the “collective action” prized by Obama and his deputies. The time for “collective action” is now.
Collective action does not mean bringing the unmovable Russians and Chinese on board. It means going after Revolutionary Guard camps. It means destabilizing Iran’s ally Syria by creating a no-fly zone there that protects the Syrian opposition and helps bring down Bashar al-Assad. Collective action means using every possible method and tactic to destabilize the Iranian regime by working with allies inside and outside of Iran. It means doing everything possible to ensure that Ayatollah Ali Khameini, stripped of his clerical robes, is the next Middle East dictator dragged from a hole in the ground.
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