When Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad strides to the podium at the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, he could very well declare victory. The leader of the nation that is No. 1 on the State Department list of sponsors of terrorism is on a roll.
In July, Ahmadinejad signaled that Iran's creation, Hezbollah, would attack Israel. The resulting conflict diverted attention away from Iran's nuclear program and bolstered its image in the Middle East.
It is painful for many to admit, but Iran has benefited from the U.S. involvement in Iraq. Once Iran's enemy in a bloody war and a rival for regional dominance, Iraq is now a country that pins down U.S. forces.
He is likely to come to New York with a stamp of approval for his country's nuclear program from the 100-plus members of the Non-Aligned Movement, where he is leading a festival of America bashing.
Most importantly, Ahmadinejad brazenly ignored an August 31 deadline from the U.N Security Council to cease enrichment of nuclear fuel. Rather than move immediately to impose sanctions, the Security Council has entered another round of fruitless negotiations about possible future negotiations. Not surprisingly, the Iranians came up with a proposal that holds out enough hope for the naïve - including some in the Bush administration - to keep the dance going.
Ahmadinejad declared in one of his diatribes that the United States should "bow and surrender" to Iran.
Mr. Ahmadinejad, we already have.
Our unilateral concessions began in 1999, when we opened our markets to Iranian exports. Not oil -- only the stuff Iranians cannot sell elsewhere and we don't need, like caviar.
Since then we have acquiesced in World Bank loans to the Iranian government while we have continued to subsidize the World Bank. We allow U.S. corporations to do business with Iran through their foreign subsidiaries, and last year we opened the door to Iran's membership in the World Trade Organization.
For six years, the Bush administration has violated U.S. law by refusing to apply the Iran Libya Sanctions Act to billions of dollars of investment in the Iranian oil sector, even though energy sanctions were effective in changing Libyan policies.
Most recently, Condoleezza Rice and President Bush personally approved a visa for a five-city U.S. propaganda tour by Ahmadinejad's predecessor, former Iranian President Mohammed Khatami.
Amazingly, U.S. taxpayers picked up part of the tab for Khatami's terrorism promotion tour. We paid for a State Department security detail. As you will remember, the last time American officials were in Iran there wasn't much security. A mob stormed our embassy in Tehran and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days. (In another bow to Iran, our own State Department continues to throw up legal roadblocks to the hostages' long-continuing lawsuit against Iran).
There is a certain symmetry to all of this. According to the 9/11 commission, during the administration of President Khatami from 1997 to 2005, Iranian tax dollars were used to provide safe harbor and protection to al Qaeda terrorists. Now U.S. taxpayer dollars are used to provide safe harbor and protection for Khatami.
The failure to persuade U.N. Security Council members, particularly Russia and China, to sanction Iran for developing nuclear weapons is the greatest failure of this administration. Why have they failed? Because they reject the concept of "linkage." We won't tell Russia that their support on the Iran issue will influence our policy on issues in Russia's neighborhood. We seek Russia's help on Iran, while refusing to make the slightest concessions on issues Russia cares about - Moldova, Chechnya, Abkhazia. Any reasonable U.S. policy would subordinate these issues to the goal of preventing a nuclear Iran.
Likewise, we refuse to link how China deals with Iran with trade issues important to the Chinese, such as how we choose to respond to their legally questionable currency manipulations.
The options are clear: We can use all of the economic and diplomatic power of the U.S. - including linkage - to stop Ahmadinejad's nuclear weapons program. Or we can "bow down and surrender."
Actually, the Bush administration does have a third option, one they have seemingly embraced: Talk tough. Avoid effective action, especially linkage. And take solace in the fact that the failure of the policy will not become manifest - Iran will not develop and test a nuclear weapon - until after 2008.