“It is time to admit the truth,” Charles Krauthammer writes this morning. “The Bush administration’s attempt to halt Iran’s nuclear program has failed. Utterly.” It’s hard to disagree: almost no one thinks President Bush is going to muster the coalition necessary to stop Tehran or go to war to do so.
Krauthammer’s solution? He calls upon the President to make the “Holocaust Declaration,” a statement that the United States will consider any nuclear attack on Israel by, or originating in, Iran as an attack on the United States “requiring a full retaliatory response.” He correctly notes that we are “the last refuge and hope of an ancient people openly threatened with the final Final Solution.”
Will deterrence work in the 21st century? Despite tough talk and a few particularly regrettable acts of aggression, Moscow, after the missile crisis in Cuba, generally acted like a status quo power. Iran, unfortunately, is not. Krauthammer acknowledges that the prospect of complete destruction may not deter some of the wilder elements in Tehran. Moreover, the Iranians might actually think they can get away with incinerating Israel by arranging to have either Hamas or Hezbollah detonate a nuke there.
Perhaps the most important objection to Krauthammer’s declaration is that it is an implicit acknowledgment that his premise is correct: that the mullahs have already beaten America. Any public adoption of a deterrence strategy would certainly signal to the Iranians that they can continue their weapons program, thereby making it even harder to rally the international community to take effective action against the mullahs. I do not share the optimism expressed by the New York Times this morning that there is plenty of time left—Iran could get the bomb by the end of next year—but I believe that, one way or another, we can still stop Tehran.
The United States has a moral obligation to protect her friends and to protect democracies. Israel makes it on both counts. One day, we may have to make Krauthammer’s commitment explicit with a Holocaust Declaration. At this moment, however, the Bush administration still has an obligation to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons by any means necessary. Deterrence is only the last resort.