Last night President Bush, in his State of the Union address, had a message for Tehran’s ayatollahs: “Verifiably suspend your nuclear enrichment, so negotiations can begin.” Then he demanded that they “come clean” about their “nuclear intentions and past actions.” What were missing were two essential words: “Or else.”
The omission is all the more significant because the President used tougher language for Iran on another topic. After listing a series of Iranian transgressions including the funding and training of militias in Iraq, he said, “But above all, know this: America will confront those who threaten our troops.”
I love ringing language from American presidents, but it’s time to examine its effect on Iranian leaders. If I were a mullah in Tehran, the word that would be going through my mind is the Farsi equivalent of “hollow.” After all, I know that I have been helping to kill American troops in Iraq for the past several years and President Bush hasn’t done anything of particular significance to me. Would I be right in concluding that he will not be doing anything more in the future? And if he won’t do anything about my killing more Americans, then why, in light of his use of “above all,” should I think he will do anything about my nuclear program?
President Bush may be coming to the end of his second term, but as the Wall Street Journal pointed out this morning, “even a lame duck President has more power to influence events than anyone else on the planet.” So he does not have an excuse. If he thought there is a diplomatic solution, he should have said so last night. If there is not—and none is in sight in my view—then he needed to tell the Iranians what is the price they will have to pay for their conduct. This morning John Bolton, interviewed by Bill Hemmer on the Fox News Channel, said that there were only two options left: regime change and the use of force. Agree with him or not, Bolton is one person who is talking about “or else.”