Time for a new “coalition of the willing” against Iran

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent embrace of Iran’s radical regime begs a basic question for President Bush — would he rather prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons or continue working through the increasingly unhelpful institutions of the global community?

Clearly, he can’t do both. The United Nations won’t act — Russia and China, both arms dealers to Iran, continue to block the tough Security Council sanctions that might force Tehran to back down. The Western alliance won’t act — Germany, Italy and others will block European Union efforts to work with the United States to impose tight Western economic sanctions.

The Bush administration must resurrect the widely pilloried tools of its early foreign policy, building a “coalition of the willing” and, if all else fails, resorting to “unilateral” action. That’s true whether Washington works to resolve its problems with Tehran peacefully or, failing that, decides that only military action will prevent Iran from joining the nuclear weapons club.

The fact is, notwithstanding its recent saber rattling against Tehran, Bush is losing a race against time. The International Atomic Energy Agency recently reported that Iran will have nearly 3,000 uranium enrichment centrifuges running by the end of this month.

That’s a huge development, with enormous implications for U.S. national security and global stability. The continuous spinning of 3,000 centrifuges for one year would generate enough highly enriched uranium to produce one nuclear bomb, according to nuclear experts.

Such nuclear progress and splits within the global community have only emboldened the Iranian regime. Its firebrand president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, told the U.N. General Assembly last month that Tehran considered the nuclear issue “closed.” Who can blame him?

Putin recently dismissed suggestions that Iran’s nuclear program is weapons-related, argued against military action to derail it and joined other Caspian Sea nations to oppose the use of their airspace for such action.

Meanwhile, at a recent European Union meeting, only Britain and France backed the kind of strong multilateral sanctions outside the Security Council that Washington is pushing its allies to support. Germany is lukewarm, while Italy and Austria want a softer, slower approach.

Bush’s fealty to major international institutions like the U.N. is laudable and, if it produced results, would surely be beneficial. The more that the United States can lead the world community, the more Washington avoids the cost of solitary action, financial and otherwise.

But though desirable, Washington must not treat multilateralism as a straitjacket. The United States is almost uniquely in Iran’s crosshairs, and America’s bill of particulars extends far beyond nukes. Thus, U.S. action against Iran, economic or military, would be nothing more than self-defense.

Iranian threats against the United States and its key Middle East ally, Israel, mount by the day. Ahmadinejad has envisioned a “world without America,” while chants of “death to America” pervade sessions of parliament, as well as officially sanctioned speeches across the land.

Iranian military activity against U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and its threats to unleash anti-American terror and economic warfare in response to tougher U.S. action, are on the rise.

In Iraq, Iran has supplied Shiite militias and insurgents with armor-piercing munitions, “explosively formed penetrators,” surface-to-air missiles and other sophisticated weaponry that, together, have accounted for some 70 percent of recent U.S. deaths.

In Afghanistan, U.S. forces recently intercepted an Iranian shipment of explosive devices to anti-government insurgents, marking at least the third such interception by coalition forces. Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security is sending its spies into Afghanistan and, local officials say, Iranian helicopters have repeatedly violated Afghan airspace this year.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps recently said it can monitor all activity in the Strait of Hormuz and Persian Gulf, which amounts to a threat to block Western oil supplies in response to U.S. action against Tehran.

Bush now faces the reality of his rhetoric. In 2004, he scoffed at his opponent’s notion of a “global test” for the United States to pass before taking military action. By allowing international institutions to thwart him even as a nuclear Iran draws closer, is he not subjecting his nation to that very test?

And for those horrified by suggestions of unilateral action and a new “coalition of the willing,” here’s a question — why should the United States not do whatever it must to defend itself?