Wall Street Journal – By JOSEPH I. LIEBERMAN: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that it is imperative that the world prevent the Islamic Republic of Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
The Wall Street Journal
An Iranian nuclear bomb would transform the strategic landscape of the Middle East.
By JOSEPH I. LIEBERMAN
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that it is imperative that the world prevent the Islamic Republic of Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. She pledged that the Obama administration's engagement with Iran to achieve that end would be carried out "with eyes wide open and under no illusions."
Mrs. Clinton is right. Iran's illicit nuclear activities represent a uniquely dangerous and transformational threat to the United States and the rest of the world — a threat that demands a response of open-eyed realism.
A realistic response requires that we first recognize that the danger posed by the Islamic Republic's nuclear activities cannot be divorced from its broader foreign policy ambitions and patterns of behavior — in particular, its longstanding use of terrorist proxies to destabilize and weaken its Arab neighbors and Israel, to carve out spheres of Iranian influence in the Mideast, and to tilt the region toward extremism.
The Iranians have supported Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in the Palestinian territories, and Shiite militias in Iraq. They have sponsored terrorist attacks that have killed hundreds of American soldiers and thousands of innocent Muslims throughout the region. They have also exploited the plight of the Palestinians in a cynical attempt to put a wedge between moderate Arab governments and their people.
Consider how the balance of power and the prospects for peace in the Middle East would change if Iran were to acquire nuclear weapons — and its extremist proxies could attack moderate Arab regimes, Israel and us under the protection of Tehran's nuclear umbrella, which they would use to deter conventional military retaliation in response to their aggression.
Engaging Iran with open-eyed realism also requires that we take seriously the violent words of the Iranian regime, and its acts of domestic repression. I know there are some who dismiss Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's calls for Israel to be wiped off the map as little more than political rhetoric. Others urge us not to hear Iran's rulers when they lead crowds in chanting "Death to America." Still others argue that the Iranian regime's mistreatment of its own citizens should not interfere in our diplomacy. If we ever accept that counsel, it would be at our grave peril.
As the Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov once said, "A country that does not respect the rights of its own people will not respect the rights of its neighbors." There is no better proof of this than Iran today.
I am not opposed to pursuing direct engagement with the Iranians. It is certainly the preferred way to end Iran's nuclear program. But engagement is a tactic, not a strategy. What we need is a multipronged strategy that employs all of the elements of our national power. Such a strategy would include a clear and credible set of benchmarks by which we can judge Iran's response to our outreach, a timeline by which to expect results, and a set of carrots and sticks that both sides understand. We must make clear to the Iranians and the region that engagement will not be a process without end, but rather a means to a clearly identified set of ends.
And we must build a consensus domestically and internationally. Just as steps forward by the Iranians will justify continued and rewarding engagement, a lack of progress will be met with what Mrs. Clinton characterized before the House Foreign Affairs Committee as "crippling" sanctions.
With the goal of giving President Barack Obama the authority to impose precisely such sanctions, a bipartisan coalition of senators, organized by Sens. Evan Bayh, Jon Kyl and me, recently introduced legislation that would empower the president to sanction companies that are involved in brokering, shipping or insuring the sale of gasoline and other refined petroleum products to Iran.
During last year's campaign, Mr. Obama expressed interest in using Iran's dependence on imported gasoline as leverage in our nuclear standoff. However, under current law, his authority to do so is uncertain. Our legislation would eliminate this ambiguity and enable the president to tell companies involved in this trade that they must choose between doing business with Iran or doing business with America.
I am especially proud of the breadth of the coalition that introduced this bill. It includes some of the most liberal and most conservative members of the U.S. Senate, and it should send an unambiguous message of unity, strength and resolve from America to Iran and the rest of the world.
We should likewise seek to build greater unity among our friends abroad. In the Middle East today, there is an unprecedented convergence of concerns about Iran among Arabs and Israelis alike. The question is whether we can seize this moment to help usher into place a new strategic architecture for the Middle East — keeping in mind that some of the strongest alliances in history have been forged among old antagonists when confronted by a new, common threat.
Iran's easiest path to a nuclear weapon is clear: It is by dividing the rest of us, Europeans from Americans, the Russians and Chinese from the West. It is by pitting Arabs against Arabs in Lebanon, Iraq, the Palestinian Authority and the Gulf, and by stirring up hatred between Muslims and Jews. It is by dividing the Iranian people from the American people when we are otherwise natural allies. It is by dividing us here at home — Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals.
The best way to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons is equally clear: It is by recognizing that whatever differences divide us on other matters, our shared interest in stopping the Iranian government from getting nuclear weapons is far greater. This is why we must urgently unite to prevent that dangerous result.
Mr. Lieberman is an Independent Democratic senator from Connecticut. This article is adapted from a speech he delivered at the American Enterprise Institute.