2009-12-18 / Columnists

The Rockaway Irregular

The Price Of Gold
by Stuart W. Mirsky

President Obama's recent decision to up the ante in Afghanistan, akin to his predecessor's prior decision to do the same in Iraq, was welcome news to those of us who believe we have real national interests at stake in those conflicts. More, it demonstrates this president's understanding of the reality of those interests and his willingness to defend them.

A president unprepared to do that would be an American disaster. But despite getting it right in Afghanistan, at least for the moment, the president has a much bigger problem looming on his radar - where the real test of his and our national resolve will come.

While we scramble to meet the challenge of a resurgent Taliban in Afgha - nistan, the rulers of that country's next door neighbor to the west continue to press their efforts to achieve regional hegemony and make themselves a feared global player by gaining nuclear weapons capability, despite the pro - tests and pleas of the international community. The mullahs of Iran have been on a collision course with the rest of the world since gaining power in the seventies when they booted out the illfated Shah of Iran, a Western ally, and they show no signs of stopping now.

After humiliating America during the hapless Carter administration by seizing and holding American diplomats hostage, they've pursued a xenophobic national foreign policy which has taken them to war with neighboring Iraq, led to secret assassinations of dissidents abroad, a fatwah marking English writerand subject, Salman Rushdie, for death, support of al Qaeda and Iraqi insurgents against the post-Saddam regime in Iraq, numerous seizures of American and other foreign nationals from international or foreign territory, imprisonment and execution of internal protesters and, of course, a relentless pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Along the way high officials of the regime have called for the demise of fellow United Na tions member Israel, while discussing their own potential for achieving that end with the nuclear weapons they are set on gaining.

The world is right to be concerned about this but, with so much else going on, it looks like business as usual to the average observer. Indeed, it seems like many of us have grown used to the bluster and stalling tactics employed by the Iranian regime as it drives relentlessly toward its nuclear goal.

They've al ready tested long range missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads to Israel and parts of Europe.

Over the past dozen years they've developed a far-flung infrastructure within their borders to conceal nuclear facilities (many buried deep underground and some built in population centers and holy sites).

Most recently, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmade ni jad has announ - ced that his government plans to build ten more such facilities, in the face of broad international disapproval. At the same time the Iranians have been actively reaching out to America's foes, like tin pot Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez, while cultivating relations with other Ameri can adversaries incluing Russia and China.

While Tehran lunges toward a goal of global power and a dream of a restored Islamic caliphate under Ira - nian suzerainty, the American president and the rest of Washington fiddle with domestic concerns intended to in crease spending and our national debt while drawing funds away from needed defense efforts (most recently evidenced by the ratcheting down of homeland missile defense programs). As Washington argues over the validity of Global Warming claims, the real warming grows apace in a nation ruled by religious fanatics who take delight in thwarting us and be - lieve they are divinely situated to bring about the return of the Hidden Imam, the Shiite messianic redeemer who, their tradition holds, will restore Islamic glory and superiority.

While American jihadist fanatics shoot up military bases at home or rush overseas to fight against us and our allies, we dither over ensuring captured terrorists their "constitutional rights". The president, to be sure, has a lot on his plate, not least being the situation in Afghanistan. But, as the recent report of departing International Ato mic Energy Agency (IAEA) head Mo ha mmed el-Baradei makes clear, the Iranians have played us for fools as they've played for time to build a bomb.

Successive American governments have not figured out how to deal with this, let alone how to stop it. Perhaps we've just become used to the idea of Iranian nuclearization by now because few alarm bells went off in the media or elsewhere when el-Baradei's final report was presented.

Yes, Russia and China finally consented to go along with America, Britain and France in condemning the Iranian regime and in making formal allusions to tougher actions that may, just may, be forthcoming. But if the past is any guide, that's little more than bluster, too. Tough sanctions, the only feasible alternative to military action, remain unlikely, given Russian and Chinese economic ties with the mullahs and their tacit appreciation at seeing America discomfited.

But even if actually implemented, sanctions have rarely worked in history and, if and when they do, they tend to take a long time while Iran doesn't look to be more than a couple of years, if that, away from its goal of going nuclear. The alternative to an internationally enforced sanctions re - gime, an aerial assault on Iran's nuclear installations, looks to be beyond the Obama administration's capacity. It took them some six months to decide to up the ante in Afgha nis - tan, after all, which is a far cry from the risks entailed in a pre-emptive Iranian operation.

They simply do not feel at ease with the use of force while the risks of an Iranian pre-emption going wrong are substantial because of the size of the territory, the rugged terrain and the extensive underground infrastructure. The only nation that might actually have the will to try is Israel, but the odds are even less favorable in their case since their resources are more limited. And, if they do it, succeed or not, the world will be outraged, the Muslim world especially.

If nothing is done, on the other hand, and the Iranians complete their efforts to acquire these deadly weapons, can we hope they will moderate their rhetoric and behavior as the Soviets once did? There's little reason to think so and yet, the proximity of a large Muslim population to the tiny state of Israel may serve as some kind of a deterrent. And adherents of Islam claim to hold Jerusalem as sacred as Jews and Christians do. Would they want to obliterate it in a mushroom cloud? Still, if their aim is to bring about a religious apocalypse to hasten the return of the missing Imam, then people who revere suicide bombings may well count it a small thing to blow up some of their own and spread radioactive clouds across a good portion of the Middle East, via the hot desert winds, in order to see their religious dream fulfilled.

Just as worrisome, though, is the possibility that Tehran will quietly slip a few nukes into al Qaeda pockets and wave the jihadists merrily off to Western Europe or America. Or that it may aid some of them to develop these capabilities for themselves — all as their acquisition of strategic and long range nuclear warheads gives them the clout to enforce Iranian regional hegemony. This last must surely prompt a nu clear arms race in an alrea dy dangerously unstable region and/or the blackmailing of our former friends and allies to get them to sever ties with us, thus closing off the Middle East and its oil to the West.

Whether the U.S. or Israel acts preemptively or not, increased global instability seems to already be in the cards. While the president and Demo - crats in congress argue over our current national pre-occupations, the world lurches fitfully toward a preci - pice which, should we fall over it, could dramatically reshape the international community for years to come. Whether we try to stop the Iranians or not at this stage of the game, it's going to be messy.

Does anyone seriously think the oil will flow as it once did in the halcyon days of the twentieth century afterwards? Or that enough stability will persist to enable the international trade that has fueled increasing global prosperity in our lifetimes? Which population centers will be left undamaged if the onrushing instability tips us into global conflict? A decision to finally send more troops to win in Afghanistan can only be a down payment on what needs to be done, if anything still can, to head off this growing Iranian-made crisis. Is it any wonder, then, that the price of gold, along with other commodities, has been making new highs for months now?

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