Carter's hand still felt in Iran
Last Updated:March 26. 2007 11:00PM
Published: March 27. 2007 3:30AM
Where is Jimmy Carter when we need him the most? The former president who has spent his post-White House years giving his successors the benefit of his foreign policy expertise whether they wanted it or not, has been curiously reticent when it comes to Iran. After all, no U. S. president past or present has more experience with the Persian menace than Carter.
The latest U.N. sanctions against Iran for its determination to enrich uranium with the quite obvious goal of becoming a nuclear power mark almost 30 years of unsuccessful efforts by the civilized world to control a radical rogue regime that got its start because of Carter's misguided policies.
In fairness, however, the former peanut farmer's mistakes were compounded by the tunnel vision of several other administrations that focused unswervingly on Saddam Hussein, whom we now know was merely a loud mouthed con artist when it came to international dealings and a vicious thug and bully at home.
George W. Bush's willingness to accept the fiction of Iraq's secret efforts to build weapons of mass destruction, as Oliver Hardy used to say, has gotten us into another fine mess, while the Iranians clapped their hands in glee over the demise of their Sunni enemy and the installation of a pro-Iranian government in Baghdad. While Saddam's efforts to develop WMDs turned out to be so clandestine that even he didn't know about them, the Iranians were on the road to the real thing.
It is now hard to believe that these new sanctions imposed unanimously by the U.N. Security Council will have the impact intended. The Iranians are nothing if not resilient and stubborn and hard nosed when it comes to dealing with the West. Their apprehension of 15 British sailors and marines in Iraqi waters is a case in point. They also realize that the super powered United States is in no position to do much more than call them names like "evil,'' strained as its military is with the twin problems of Iraq and Afghanistan. Certainly, no one else, including the Russians, is about to back up the tough language-militarily.
The real laugh in all this, of course, is the constant insistence by Internet dummies that an invasion of Iran is next on the Bush agenda and that such an action is imminent. Invade with what? U.S. forces are so depleted in men and materiel that they would have a tough time staging a successful landing on Granada (anyway, we've already done that). Oh sure, we could bust Tehran with a hydrogen bomb and set off a chain reaction of death and destruction unlike the world has ever seen. But get serious.
There was a time, of course, when the threat to level the Iranian capital, backed up with the righteousness of a country whose sovereignty had been violated, might have nipped all this in the bud. But that was when the religious fanatics broke into our embassy and held Americans hostage for more than a year while Carter dithered, something he did a lot of despite his Naval Academy education. Not to open old wounds, but as a lesson for those who don't subscribe to the past is prologue concept, it was Carter's decision to pull the rug out from America's longtime ally in Iran, the shah, and clear the way for a religious zealot with 11th century ideas, that started us on the road here in the first place.
Carter then reinforced growing Iranian dislike for American infidels by permitting the shah to receive medical treatment in the United States although he had been warned of the consequences. This led to the embassy invasion and his decision to use such powerful negotiators as his onetime baggage hauler and then White House chief of staff, Hamilton Jordan, in unsuccessfully trying to free the hostages. Brilliant.
It has been all down hill for the United States in this area since. Ronald Reagan, pressured by the relatives of other victims kidnapped with the backing of Tehran, became embroiled in the Iran Contra nightmare and the first George Bush set the stage for the second's actions by kicking Saddam out of Kuwait in Desert Storm, then wisely withdrawing sooner than some would have liked. We knew then how light a threat Saddam was, but Bill Clinton nurtured the strength illusion.
So, pinning much hope on the economic sanctions is probably unwise. The entire Middle East has been so destabilized by the mess in Iraq that to contemplate what might occur next is an exercise in depression. The radical Persians want to fill the power void and are well on their way to doing so. They really should thank Carter.
Dan Thomasson writes for Scripps Howard News Service.