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The alternative to unilateral U.S. action can’t be no action at all

Post by Patrick O'Callahan on Sep. 29, 2009 at 8:05 pm with No Comments »
September 29, 2009 6:08 pm

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

President Obama’s speech to the U.N. General Assembly last Wednesday was commonly received as a repudiation of the go-it-alone foreign policy associated with George W. Bush.

But there was a scolding embedded in Obama’s remarks that bears directly on Iran’s outlaw nuclear program:

“Those who used to chastise America for acting alone in the world cannot now stand by and wait for America to solve the world’s problems alone. We have sought – in word and deed – a new era of engagement with the world. And now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility for a global response to global challenges.”

In other words, the alternative to unilateral American action against potential nuclear terrorism cannot be no action at all. Given that choice, Obama – or his successor – will ultimately act in America’s interests. Bank on it: That’s what presidents do.

In this case, the United States and humanity in general share a compelling interest in keeping nuclear weapons out of the hands of a radical regime committed to intimidating Arab governments and destroying Israel.
Israel’s own nuclear arsenal is one of the harrowing realities at the core of this dispute. Iran’s ostentatious test-firing this week of missiles capable of hitting Israel is a reminder of how scary this could get.

Obama stepped up the pressure considerably Friday when he, with conspicuous backing from the leaders of Britain and France, accused Iran of building a secret underground complex that by all accounts is capable of producing enough highly enriched uranium for a steady production of nuclear warheads.
As always, Iranian leaders insist that they’re only trying to create a peaceful nuclear power industry. If so, why the duplicity and the defiance of Iran’s nonproliferation commitments?

Perhaps the only hope of stopping Iran’s nuclear program lies in sanctions capable of crippling its already-weakened economy and driving a greater wedge between Iranians and their government.

Obama wasn’t just confronting Iran last Friday. He was also confronting opponents of sanctions. In the past, Russia and China – which do a lot of business with Iran – have undercut all efforts to impose international penalties on Tehran. There are hints that Russian leaders may be reconsidering in light of the secret nuclear complex, but no such hints out of China.

Thus the challenge Obama laid down Friday. In the face of an obvious threat, governments that condemn the United States for acting unilaterally can’t turn around and refuse multilateral support to economic sanctions that could avert an explosion in the Middle East.

If they do, multilateralism will wind up discredited – and there’ll be no blaming Obama or the United States.

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