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The Threats We Face By: Kenneth R. Timmerman
The Washington Times | Thursday, January 31, 2008


Whichever candidate emerges from the primaries to win the presidential election this November will face a series of foreign policy challenges unlike anything since Thomas Jefferson took office, when our new nation faced its first messy, dangerous and inexplicable challenge from afar.

In 1801, the threat came from North African pirate states, far from America's shores, whose better-equipped naval vessels were seizing U.S. merchant ships and extorting huge sums in tribute from our Treasury.

Today, the immediate threat comes from jihadi Islam, and the primary state-sponsor of terror: the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Both are as inexplicable and as messy a political problem as were the Barbary pirates that nearly capsized Jefferson's presidency. But with the nuclear aspirations of both al Qaeda and Iran, the threat they pose is infinitely more dangerous. Put simply, America cannot afford to elect an amateur commander in chief in November.

No matter how much of a quick study such a candidate might be, trusting in on-the-job training is a poor bet for our nation's security. The next president needs to know how to face the guys with big guns (and bombs) from the minute he takes the job. That means serious, executive-level experience, not hype or hope.

There are plenty of other challenges out there: How to deal with a resurgent KGB state in Russia, armed with nuclear weapons and awash in new riches from oil; what to do with a rising China, struggling to jettison its communist past, a potential enemy but already a competitor; and a recalcitrant North Korea, just to name a few.

But nothing on the horizon currently tops the immediacy or the global nature of the threat from radical Islam and its main state-sponsor, Iran.

Consider the following.

• Iran's regime has supported the insurgency in Iraq from the get-go, and is dedicated to effecting the failure of America's mission to stabilize Iraq.

• Iran's Revolutionary Guards have recently expanded their operations against coalition forces in Afghanistan, providing improvised explosive devices (IEDs), cash and training to the Taliban.

• Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has forged alliances with Castro-acolytes Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and Evo Morales in Bolivia, and continues to make forays into America's backyard.

• Iran continues to acquire the capabilities to make nuclear weapons, while disguising their political intent to build the bomb.

• Iran is the primary financial and military backer of Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Hamas in the Palestinian territories, and continues to fund subversive groups throughout the Persian Gulf region as part of its efforts to undermine regimes friendly to the United States.

Despite this clear pattern of aggressive behavior, some presidential candidates have argued that the United States should make concessions to Tehran's leaders, as if we could entice them from mayhem and from planning the next Holocaust by just offering them enough carrots.

The record is crystal-clear: When Tehran's leaders see their enemies grovel, they just turn up the heat. And when we apply modest political or economic pressure, they laugh and find clever ways around it.

The worst thing the next president could do when facing the challenges from Iran would be to offer face-to-face meetings or negotiations with Tehran, as both Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Hussein Obama have done.

The Islamic Republic understands power politics. When we squeeze them in serious ways, as the U.S. Treasury Department has been doing over the last year, they take notice and start to squirm. Rather than offer concessions, the next president needs to tighten the screws.

Here are a few suggestions for the types of thing he could do:

(1) Expand the economic pressure by getting Iran's suppliers of refined petroleum producers — mainly in India, the United Arab Emirates and the Netherlands — to cut back or cut off their supplies. The lack of gasoline for the domestic market is the Achilles heel of this regime.

(2) Craft a serious program to funnel money, technical assistance, supplies and diplomatic recognition to the pro-democracy movement inside Iran. The regime is terrified that their divided domestic opposition might come together around a common program to bring about nonviolent change. We should help the opposition to make the regime's worst nightmare come true.

(3) Work hard with American allies such as French President Nicolas Sarkozy, to get others to cut off new bank loans and new commercial contracts with Iran. If France can do it, why can't Germany, Italy or South Korea?

(4) Set up a special fund, through private nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) with demonstrated experience in the field, to infiltrate the regime, buy sensitive information and work with defectors from Iran's intelligence apparatus. The CIA has demonstrated its total inability to infiltrate Iran or deal with defectors. And yet for just a few hundred million dollars, we can buy the entire regime. The next president must understand the limitations of the U.S. intelligence community, and the power of the private sector if unleashed and properly funded.


Kenneth R. Timmerman was nominated for the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize along with John Bolton for his work on Iran. He is Executive Director of the Foundation for Democracy in Iran, and author of Countdown to Crisis: the Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran (Crown Forum: 2005).


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