Points and those who miss them

Don’t get me wrong, reports that the US and other permanent members of the UN Security Council are convening to develop a coherent, multilateral strategy for dealing with Iran’s abrogation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, are well received. This is, objectively, good news.

Less inspiring is the assumed knowledge that this is occurring because the US has “learned her lesson” after Iraq, concedes that military intervention in Iran is impossible given the call on her resources in Iraq, and, most wearisomely of all, has finally recognised that diplomacy is preferable to war. These are not straw man constructs, as anyone who has just watched BBC Question Time can testify.

In turn then, the “lesson” of Iraq could equally be Russia and China’s to learn, in that *they* now recognise that their historically and collectively preferred policy for dealing with megalomaniacal tyrants leading failed or failing Gulf states – i.e. to do precious little other than arm them to the teeth – is probably not a terrific idea and, moreover, whatever they might believe in terms of the influence they wield in matters of global security, the harsh reality is that it cuts no ice with a republican administration in Washington that has demonstrated, if nothing else, that it is ultimately prepared to wage war in what it perceives to be the best interests of the USA, and Moscow and Beijing can bite it. Could not the newly-discovered, ostensible willingness of Russia and China to grasp the nettle, simultaneously increasing the chances of a non-military solution to the current impasse and thereby helping to clip the wings of Washington hawks, be traced back to the spring of 2003, when their sheer impotence in obstructing the will of Washington was laid bare?

Getting to US military intervention in Iran, a land invasion never has been and is unlikely to ever be on the table in the Oval Office. Military action, if it ever comes to it, will be limited to missile strikes on strategic targets, both directly involved in and incidental to the uranium enrichment process. It is self-delusion writ large if anyone believes that Washington’s ability to prosecute such a ‘war’ is compromised by the commitment in Iraq. Success, measured as the retardation of Iran’s nuclear ambitions by a number of years, is virtually guaranteed without putting a single USAF pilot in the sky. If you are looking for reasons why this is yet to happen, try that Bush simply doesn’t deem it necessary. Today.

Lastly, and most gallingly, is the suggestion that the US has only now woken up to the idea that diplomacy can work in such situations. It’s a difficult lesson to teach to a country that did, oooh, about 90% of the heavy lifting for the UN when diplomacy was ditched in 1990, only for it to be restarted the following year, and pursued for an additional 12 years, culminating in the ultimate test of will for the international community generally and an assault on the integrity of the United Nations specifically. A test failed and an assault to which the UN yielded when “final opportunities” were followed by ‘further’ opportunities.

Those who contrast the prospect of talks with Tehran with the coalition’s decision to go to war with Saddam for the second time, miss the point spectacularly. The apposite, historical reference point is not March 2003, but March 1991, when the world’s movers and shakers sat around desks and talked tough to a Baathist regime that then proceeded to cock them a snook for over a decade.

Sitting here in 10 years time with only the prospect of more talks about the possibility of meetings with a view to compromise to show for our efforts, ought not to be an option. So let’s hope that Ahmadinejad can be persuaded to come to his senses, but let’s consider, too, what we in the international community are prepared to do if, like Baghdad’s most famous prisoner, he never does.