A great many Americans are concerned that the Bush administration is taking the same path that he traveled in the 2002 run-up to the invasion of Iraq. They cite the continuing and increasingly anti-Iran rhetoric of the president, and the imposition of sanctions against Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Defense Ministry as well as against its major banks. Then, to top it all off, the president for the first time raised the threat of World War III if Iran figures out how to make a nuclear weapon.
In the face of all this came the report by the United Nations' nuclear watchdog that he had no evidence that Iran was actively working to build nuclear weapons. He accompanied this report with his concerns that the escalating U.S. rhetoric could result in disaster. Mohammed ElBaradei, who heads the International Atomic Energy Agency, said "we have information that there has been maybe some studies about possible weaponization but have we seen Iran having the nuclear material that can readily be used into a weapon? No. Have we seen an active weaponization program? No."
Vice President Cheney, ever the hawk, has said there would be serious consequences if Iran was found to be working toward developing a nuclear weapon. ElBaradei said he was worried that the growing rhetoric focused on Iran's alleged intentions to build a nuclear weapon, rather than evidence Iran was actively doing so.
He said that he is very concerned about confrontation "because that would lead to disaster. I see no military solution. The only durable solution is through negotiation and inspection."
Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has agreed that the current "hot rhetoric" by the United States could prove dangerous. He added that rhetoric from the United States plays into the hands of the fanatics in Iran.
It is interesting to note that ElBaradei believes that Iran wants to eventually become a virtual nuclear weapons state, that it wants to have the technology to produce a bomb but doesn't necessarily want to make or test one.
If this proves true, then every effort should be made by the United States to reach agreement with Iran and eliminate the possibility of an armed conflict. The sanctions have been a major U.S. turn toward unilaterism. To date this has not been a positive.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice hopes that sanctions can provide a deterrent to every foreign bank and company that thinks of doing business with Iran. The imposition of sanctions by the United States is the first time it has used the terrorist label and sanctions to attempt to punish another country's military. The administration admits that its past attempts to enlist allies in limiting the business they do with Iran have been failures.
The United States can ill afford to get involved in another conflict, given that our resources are being strained by our involvement in Iraq. Rather than continuing a war of words against Iran, it would best serve our purposes to offer some rewards and security guarantees to Iran if we can get it to agree to give up any nuclear ambitions it might have.
Bush and his vice president definitely will have to curb their rhetoric. Continuing it can only lead to an Iraq-like solution, which has cost us billions of dollars and thousands of lives. Iraq has been a disaster and to repeat it is unthinkable. The president has to commit to the strategy of diplomacy. Any campaign against Iran can only be costly and a lengthy involvement with a questionable outcome. Bush took this nation to one costly war and the American people most certainly will not excuse him if he stubbornly continues a course of dialogue that gets us into another one.
Murray B. Light is the former editor of The Buffalo News