Does Iran already have nuclear weapons? Is it on the verge of acquiring them? Will the U.S. have to initiate regime change unilaterally?
To discuss these and other questions with us today, Frontpage Symposium has assembled a distinguished panel:
Jed Babbin, the former deputy undersecretary of defense in the administration of President George H. W. Bush. A contributing editor of The American Spectator Magazine and a contributor to National Review Online, he is the author of the new book Inside the Asylum: Why the United Nations and Old Europe Are Worse Than You Think;
John Loftus, a former Justice Department prosecutor with code word clearances whose 1982 expose of Nazis working for western intelligence won the Emmy Award for Mike Wallace. He is the author of several books on the Middle East and the director of INTELCON.US, the upcoming National Intelligence Conference and Exposition. At 10:30 every weeknight, the Loftus Report is a featured segment of ABC national radio, and Fox Television's "Inside Scoop with John Loftus" airs at 11 am Sundays. His website is John-Loftus.com;
Reza Bayegan, a commentator on Iranian politics who was born in Iran and currently works for the British Council in Paris. His weekly columns appear on many publications including Iran va Jahan website. He is a regular guest on exile Iranian radio shows.
FP: Jed Babbin, John Loftus and Reza Bayegan, welcome to Frontpage Symposium.
Mr. Bayegan let me begin with you. What exactly is the threat we face? Does Iran already have WMDs? Or is it on the verge of having them? What is the threat here?
Bayegan: The Islamic Republic already has stockpiles of chemical weapons and has told the EU three (Britain, Germany and France) 'that it could possess nuclear weapons within three years. The real time limit the mullahs need to obtain a nuclear bomb however is less than 11 months.
The danger we face from the regime in Tehran acquiring the nuclear bomb cannot be exaggerated. Our democratic values and the very survival of Western civilization are at stake. In particular such an eventuality would be the worst nightmare scenario for the state of Israel and an unprecedented blow to peace and liberty throughout the world.
Since September 11, we have seen how terrorists are able to strike anywhere they choose and hijack Western democratic processes by intimidating the public as they did during the recent Spanish election. With a nuclear bomb at their disposal they can do this without risking their own lives and by pushing -- or just threatening to push -- a button.
With or without WMDs, the danger the clerical regime poses is far greater than the other members of the 'axis of evil' i.e. Iraq during Saddam Hussein and North Korea. This danger is rooted in a ruthless anti-Western ideology that manipulates the religious belief of the masses and justifies any means for reaching its deadly objectives. If the mullahs get their hands on a nuclear bomb we might as well assume that Hamas and other terrorist organizations have access to it also.
On August 15 2004, the military chief of the Islamic Republic declared that the entire Zionist territory 'is within the range of Iran's new advanced ballistic missiles'. The mullahs are counting the days until they can arm these missiles with nuclear or biological warheads. Experts believe that although due to their inherent inaccuracy the Iranian Shahb-3 and the planned for Shahab-4 missiles make no military sense if armed with conventional warheads, they can become immensely effective as terror weapons against civilian targets.
In other words, the dictators in Tehran gaining weapons of mass destruction would impose the same or worse state of terror on the rest of the world as they have imposed on the Iranian people for the last quarter of a century.
FP: Mr. Babbin, what Mr. Bayegan is describing here is terrifying. Do you agree that the danger the clerical regime poses is far greater than the other members of the Axis of Evil?What is your view of this threat? Are we going to have to pursue regime change asap?
Babbin: I agree that Iran is, by far, the most dangerous terrorist nation. Their nuclear ambitions and their unarguable involvement in global terrorism make them our number one problem. The threat from Iran is threefold:
 they are supporters of the conventional terrorists such as Hizballah, al-Queda and many others that have American blood on their hands.
 they are funding, supplying and operating the al-Sadr insurgents in Iraq. The Iranian regime has decided to make a stand against democracy in Iraq, and we must find a way to end their interference or Iraq will never be free or stable.
 their nuclear ambitions are close to being achieved. If they are, the whole Middle East and even parts of Europe will be threatened, as will American interests everywhere.
We should be pursuing regime change in Iran now, through covert operations, support for Iranian opposition groups (such as the Mujahideen e Khalq, which we wrongly labeled a terrorist group at Tehran's request) and by preparing what may be an inevitable military strike against their nuclear program.
FP: Mr. Loftus, what do you make of the two gentlemen’s comments?
Loftus: If anything, they understate the threat. Let us put Iran's nuclear development in context. During the 1990's the Peoples Liberation Army of China made a strategic decision to trade the components of the Islamic Bomb in return for greater access to Arab oil, necessary for China's growth.
The PLA used its proxy state, North Korea, to carry out the nuclear proliferation deal. Iranian nuclear engineers were frequently observed flying to North Korea and Pakistan.
For short term diplomatic reasons, the US is going along with the fiction that the A.Q. Khan network in Pakistan was merely a private criminal enterprise. Supposedly, this "private" network arranged to provide North Korean missiles to the Pakistan army in exchange for advanced nuclear centrifuges. Several of these P-2 centrifuges were discovered in Iran by the IAEA inspectors.
The Pakistani government has refused to cooperate with the IAEA's investigation of Iran. Access to uranium stain samples has been denied. This denial is critical for the IAEA to prove that Iran has its own nuclear track, which cannot be explained by the nuclear stains found on the Pakistani centrifuges. Without the Pakistani evidence, the IAEA is denied the smoking gun to prove that Iran is still lying about its nuclear program.
At some point, the Bush administration will have to stop sitting on its intelligence evidence if it wants to make its case to the UN that the Iran-North Korean-Chinese partnership is the single greatest threat to world peace.
FP: Thanks Mr. Loftus. This is very terrifying because what exactly can we really do about this? Make a case to the U.N.? This is a joke. What’s the U.N. gonna do? It’s pretty evident by now, isn’t it, that the U.N. is a body that works against the interests of the U.S., democracy and freedom? The U.N. should have acted on this long ago.
Mr. Loftus do you agree? And so what do? Do we wait for the U.N. to take action or is the U.S. gonna have to do something drastic unilaterally?
Loftus: I think the whole mess is about to erupt this fall. My bet: after the U.S. elections are over.
FP: You want to expand a bit?
Loftus: Not yet. October surprises come in October.
FP: Ok then. Well we’ll talk in November about this with you then. Mr. Bayegan, your view on the U.S. supporting Iran's opposition?
Bayegan: I agree with Mr. Babbin that Iranian opposition groups should be supported. I would like however to put in a caveat here about groups such as Mujahedin e Khalgh. This group is abhorred by the majority of Iranians for its opportunistic stance during the Iran-Iraq war and its ideological hodgepodge of Islamic Marxism. The track record of the group as far as ethical and moral integrity is concerned is also quite bleak. It has been in cahoots with Saddam Hussein, the PLO and many other brutal terrorist organizations around the globe.
If there is a group with a more shattered popular base than the mullahs it is the Mujahedin e Khalgh. Having said that, one cannot deny that they have high organizational and disciplinary skills which could be useful for overthrowing the mullahs. If support is to be provided to this group and similar organizations it should be made conditional on their acceptance of democratic principles and civilized political norms.
Iranians have no affinity for Marxism or Islamic obscurantism dished out by the mullahs for the past twenty-five years, but can feel at home in their ancient traditions of respect for human rights and tolerance. Reza Pahlavi, the son of the late Shah of Iran who lives in exile in the U.S., is the only Iranian political figure whose voice rings true for Iranians. His political agenda of separation of Mosque and state (see his book Winds of Change) and his crusade for holding a national referendum to let Iranians freely decide about their national future (a Republic, Monarchy, etc.) is the most solid ground for bringing about political transformation in Iran. His campaign, which is the only force that can unite all Iranians, should be supported with our wholehearted effort and the maximum commitment the democratic world can muster.
I would like to give the highest emphasis here to the fact that we cannot achieve a sustainable democratic transformation in Iran without the trust and blessing of the Iranian public. We have to use all possible means to isolate the regime and at the same time never for a minute lose sight of the legitimate aspirations of the Iranian people for peace, national dignity and democracy. This can be done by encouraging Iranian political groups to come together under the umbrella of calling for a free and democratic national referendum.
Regarding Jamie's remark about the UN, I would like to say that the United Nations, IAEA and for that matter efforts of the three European powers to coax Iran to convert to a trustworthy regime and keep its nuclear program peaceful will not work because the mullahs policy of acquiring nuclear bomb is part of an overall strategy to defeat Western democratic values and annihilate the state of Israel. It is a betrayal of peace and human liberty to make concessions to a government which will use any possible means to secure its deadly objectives. The weakening and disintegration of the clerical regime can be achieved by concerted international effort and application of the highest possible pressure in all fields.
FP: Mr. Babbin, what do you make of Mr. Bayegan's emphasis on democratic principles as an ingredient for U.S. support of Iranian opposition groups?
Babbin: Mr. Bayegan takes this as a sort of academic exercise. I don't want us to condition our support of Iranian opposition groups on some ephemeral affirmation of democratic principals and "civilized political norms" -- whatever that means. We can, and should, choose to support those groups that are proving that they are neither Islamic jihadists nor terrorists of any other stripe, and those which demonstrate their commitment to democracy by agreeing -- now, not later -- to some sort of provisional government for Iran when the mullahs are removed.
To do this, we need what we failed to establish in Iraq: a government in exile, governed by an agreed-on draft constitution that contains provision for basic rights and provides for free elections within a year of the mullahs' fall. We should be proclaiming -- long, hard and continuously -- that regime change in Tehran is our policy, and using every other means we can to increase the pressure on the mullahs, short of military action at this time. Military action may be needed as early as next year if the situation doesn't change dramatically.
I think the MEK is imperfect; maybe it has fewer adherents than other groups. But for us -- or for anyone such as Mr. Bayegan -- to say that no one other than their pal (in his case, the late shah's son) has allegiance of the Iranian people is simply silly. No one -- not the MEK, not Reza Pahlavi, no one - has allegiance among the people of Iran. They have been enslaved for 25 years by the mullahs. I hate to say it, but proclaiming Reza Pahlavi the only accepted voice that "rings true for Iranians" is the same sort of claim we heard from the INC three years ago about Ahmed Chalabi. It wasn't true about Chalabi then, and I don't expect it's true now of Mr. Pahlavi. The Iranian people will decide for themselves in due course. Anyone who claims his guy is the ONLY guy to trust now diminishes his own credibility enormously.
Having said that, I see no reason to not support Mr. Pahlavi or to not rearm and reactivate the MEK. There likely are other groups that can also be activated, supplied and encouraged. The issue, I say emphatically, is not to pick the next government of Iran now. The issue is to ensure that we place enough pressure on the current kakistocracy in Iran to prevent them from obtaining -- by development or purchase -- nuclear weapons. Whether we do it perfectly or not isn't the issue. Results count here, and although there are lines we can't and shouldn't cross, I'm not too picky on how we reach that goal.
I think Mr. Loftus has it right, or at least mostly. The Iranian nuclear issue will be on the front burner by early next year. In the UN we hope -- faint hope that it is -- that the IAEA will do what it is promising now, and report the Iranian nuclear program to the Security Council as a violation of international law and treaty. But to expect the Security Council to do anything serious about Iran is to hope too much. Iran is backed at least by Russia and France (both veto-holding permanent members) and other Security Council members such as Algeria, which like Iran is a supporter of terrorists. We lack the votes to get the Security Council to do anything that will prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power.
Having said that, we must plan for the next steps to be taken, because they will need to be accomplished before the end of 2005. By then, if not sooner, Iran will have possession of, and/or the ability to manufacture, nuclear weapons. (I should note that more than one source has told me that Iran already has three nuclear weapons it has bought on the black market). We will not have to act unilaterally. Other nations -- especially including Israel -- see Iran as an existential threat. Iraq, though not yet able to defend itself against the Iranian-funded insurgency of Moqtada al-Sadr, has an equal stake in preventing a nuclear Iran. So do all those nations -- from Turkey to Britain - who will soon be in range of Iranian missiles. The UN will fail with respect to Iran just as it has failed in every other challenge in the war on terrorists and the nations that support them. We won't act alone. But we will have to act militarily, and soon.
To continue reading this symposium, Click Here.