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Bush All at Sea over China, Iraq and Iran
Published on Sunday, April 23, 2006 by the Toronto Star / Canada
Bush All at Sea over China, Iraq and Iran
Why is Harper hitching wagon to lame-duck president?
by Haroon Siddiqui

A confluence of events this past week provided further evidence of how enfeebled George W. Bush has become after five years of reckless domestic and international policies.

It also showed how firmly Stephen Harper has hitched himself to the embattled Bush administration, even as the rest of the world runs away from it.

In Washington, visiting Chinese President Hu Jintao rebuffed Bush on a range of issues, from the North Korean and Iranian nuclear programs to the ballooning Chinese trade surplus with the U.S.

In Tehran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad kept up his swagger that Iran will continue enriching uranium.

In Iraq, one small but significant event exposed the American political impotency.

For weeks, the U.S. embassy in Baghdad had been trying to break the post-election impasse between the various Shiite factions. It took Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani one session with a United Nations envoy to settle the matter. He sent word that Ibrahim Jaafri should step aside as prime minister. He did.

That Bush is playing a weak geopolitical hand became abundantly clear during Hu's visit.

Having promoted oil consumption to record levels at home (20 million barrels a day by a population of 300 million), Bush was hardly in a position to tell China how to manage its energy needs (6.5 million barrels by a population of 1.3 billion).

Beijing will make deals where it can, as its $70 billion oil development project in Iran shows.

Nor did Hu give him any commitment over whether China would use what Bush pleadingly called its "considerable influence" on North Korea to restart the multilateral nuclear talks.

Bush has few levers to use, given that Beijing is the major financier of the record $423 billion U.S. deficit he has racked up.

On Iran, the U.S. policy has been irrational ever since the 1979 revolution. But Bush has divorced it from reality altogether. That Ahmadinejad calls the Holocaust a myth and wants to wipe Israel off the map does not sanctify Bush's vacuity.

Iran, a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, has a right to enrich uranium. It has not violated the treaty. It lied to the International Atomic Energy Agency. But which nuclear power hasn't? India, Pakistan and Israel made their bombs on the sly — and are being rewarded by Bush. So when he keeps up his anti-Iran blitz, he is not credible to most of the world.

His stance does not make practical sense, either.

There's the record oil price, driven up in part by his adventure in Iraq and now his sabre-rattling with Iran. There's the stretched worldwide supply.

Even Bush can see the folly of disrupting the flow of Iranian oil. Which is why when he calls for UN sanctions on Iran, he exempts its oil sector, thereby further exposing his hypocrisy.

Most experts discount Iran's nuclear boasts. It is five to 10 years away from a bomb.

It is also agreed that U.S. military options on Iran are limited.

An invasion is unlikely, with 150,000 troops stuck in Iraq and Afghanistan. The kitty is empty, partly due to the $300 billion spent on Iraq and billions more on the failed war on terrorism.

It is further agreed that bombing the widely dispersed Iranian nuclear facilities might take 600 to 1,100 strikes.

That would be just a start.

To neutralize retaliation by Tehran, Iranian air defences, missile batteries, air force, airfields, ports and naval bases would have to be hit as well.

Besides killing civilians and causing worldwide uproar, such actions could not save the West from Iranian terrorism. In fact, they would guarantee it.

The U.S.-Iran confrontation is serving Iran well. It has helped Ahmadinejad to consolidate his position, and the clerical regime to rally Iranians behind it.

This is the exact opposite of the aims of an $85 million program approved by Congress to undermine the Iranian regime.

None of this makes any sense — except that it lets Bush keep the fear factor high and keep attention off the debacle in Iraq.

Yet Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay, on a visit to Washington, pledged Ottawa's support for possible economic sanctions on Iran: "It may not be the preferred option but there aren't a lot of other options right now."

Yes, there are, starting with the simply proposition that the U.S. must engage Iran in a full range of negotiations. Many thoughtful Americans, such as Richard Haass, head of the Council on Foreign Relations, and Richard Armitage, Colin Powell's deputy secretary of state, advocate just such a course. Instead of utilizing this golden opportunity to mediate a dialogue, we have chosen to join the war party in Washington.

Haroon Siddiqui is Editor Emeritus at the Toronto Star. His column appears Thursday and Sunday.

© 2006 Copyright Toronto Star Newspapers Limited


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