Bush has betrayed us on Iran

By Melanie Phillips, August 8, 2008

The Americans have stopped behaving as if a nuclear Iran would be a disaster

In the world of diplomacy, things are often not what they seem. When it comes to the crisis over Iran, there is even more cause to be sceptical. Disinformation in such a stand-off is routine.

That's not to say there is any doubt about Iran's race to develop nuclear weapons. The regime is gloating at having faced down the international community's deadline for halting uranium enrichment.

Recently, the Kuwaiti paper Al-Siyassa reported yet another ominous development: Iran is constructing a secret nuclear reactor in the al Zarqan region in order to avoid international oversight.

A nuclear Iran would threaten the existence of Israel and hold the rest of the world to ransom. Yet from all the signals coming out of Washington and Jerusalem, it seems that the Bush administration has decided not to confront Iran but to appease it.

Recent signs that this is so include its decision to station diplomats in Iran for the first time since the Islamic Revolution of 1979; its support for an Iranian stooge as president of Lebanon; and the procession of Israeli defence bigwigs flying to Washington to beg the Americans to support an Israeli strike on Iran.

Who knows? Maybe all these signals are but bluff and counter-bluff. But from the anguished noises coming out of Israel, I doubt that the US still agrees that a nuclear Iran is an unconscionable prospect. The Bush doctrine is dead and has been supplanted by its antithesis. Everyone is talking appeasement rather than pre-emption. Israel - which may conclude that it has no alternative but to attack Iran - appears to be left swinging in the wind.

The wider tragedy may be that a priceless opportunity for a realignment of the entire region is being squandered. The greatest fear of the Arab states is Iran's growing power. But for the Arabs, if their mortal enemy isn't defeated, they adopt the next best course - to make deals with it.

When they concluded that America would not attack Iran - as they had hoped it would - they started cosying up to it instead. This should not be mistaken for friendship. On the contrary, they hate and fear Iran and are constantly looking for ways out of the scorpion's embrace.

That is why across the political spectrum in Israel there has been such interest in a possible agreement between Israel and Syria (which with Ehud Olmert's fall now may be deader that the Monty Python parrot). Wise heads scoffed that this was merely a cynical ploy by Syria to gain brownie points from the West. And maybe that was so.

But the alternative view was that Syria was desperate to escape the clutches of Iran and so could have been peeled away into a deal with Israel - if it thought that the West would not tolerate a nuclear Iran. Other Arab states feeling similarly threatened might have (discreetly) followed suit.

If such a realignment was ever a possibility, that slim chance has now been scuppered by the Bush appeasement doctrine. This has given Iran its most precious asset - time - and reinforced its confidence that the West is weak and is being outmanoeuvred at every turn. And the Arab states have drawn their own conclusion.

Of course, the whole world is waiting to see what the new American president will do. But in the meantime, what is so disturbing about Britain is the absence of concern over the threat posed by Iran to Israel, the rest of the world or its own people.

Partly, it is because the British find Ahmadinejad too absurd to take the threat of such a messianic apocalypticist seriously. Partly, it is because having convinced themselves that "Bush/Blair lied, people died" they refuse to believe any intelligence assessment of a threat to the West.

More terrible still, so effective has been the delegitimisation of Israel by the British intelligentsia and the media that a disturbing number of people in Britain are now quite indifferent to the prospect of Israel's destruction.

Beyond that horrible fact lies the astounding indifference of progressive opinion to the persecution of the Iranian people at the hands of this tyrannical regime. Dissidents are being tortured and murdered. Homosexuals are being hanged. Women are being stoned to death. Bloggers are being threatened with mutilation or death.

So where is the outcry from British progressives? Where are the demonstrations, the leading articles, the savage newspaper columns? Where is the campaign to boycott Iranian institutions or commerce? Where is the support for Iranian dissidents and opposition parties?

Is there silence because the civilised, pro-Western, pro-Israel Iranian people do not fit the template of third world oppression?

War should only ever be a last resort. The dreadful fact about Iran, however, is that we have never begun to exhaust other possibilities but instead have shamefully looked the other way.

Last updated: 12:52pm, August 7 2008