bush's first test

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    Bush's first test

    The reelection of George W. Bush will be perceived by militant Islamists as a defeat for them, just as the fall of the Aznar government in Spain was seen by them as a victory. Bush's endorsement by the American people by a respectable margin is a landmark for this region, as the election was fought, more than perhaps any in history, over policies relating to this part of the world.

    Though the war in Iraq was the central issue in the campaign, it might be premature to argue that the election constituted a ringing endorsement of that war. Rather, Americans, despite their misgivings, seemed to agree that there is no turning back in Iraq.

    Perhaps most significantly, the election provided a mandate for the context in which the war was fought: Bush's conclusion that the spread of liberty, rather than the "stability" of a sea of dictatorships, is the only real way to stem the tide of Islamist terrorism.

    Now that Bush has received this mandate, the urgent question is what he will do with it.
    The election, as elections do, postponed and distorted what might have been the natural evolution of the Bush policy following the ousting of Saddam Hussein.

    Speaking to cheering troops on the USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003, Bush laid down his post-war marker: "Any outlaw regime that has ties to terrorist groups and seeks or possesses weapons of mass destruction is a grave danger to the civilized world – and will be confronted. And anyone in the world, including the Arab world, who works and sacrifices for freedom has a loyal friend in the United States of America."
    It has not been that way, exactly.

    The Iranian regime, now the leading remnant of what Bush aptly called the "axis of evil," is openly defying Europe and the United States. The mullahs have actively contributed to, and taken advantage of, the troubles America has had in Iraq. Between the war and the election, Teheran has enjoyed a form of immunity, during which it has bought precious time to transform its quest for nuclear weapons into an irreversible fait accompli.

    There is still much to do to consolidate an American victory in Iraq – a victory central to transforming the Middle East. At the same time, the Iranian challenge looms ever larger. The war in Iraq, after all, was fought not only to demonstrate that regimes that openly support terror and defy the world will not stand, but to prevent the nexus of the "world's most dangerous powers and most dangerous weapons."

    On that aircraft carrier, Bush said, "The battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began on September the 11, 2001 – and still goes on." He was right that it was just one victory, but since then the war has, except for the very important capitulation of Libya, essentially stalled on the level of challenging rogue regimes. Success in Iraq, itself not guaranteed, will have been a failure if it prevented the United States from confronting the not lesser threat from Iran.
    Bush has repeatedly stated that each situation requires its own policy, meaning that the precedents of Afghanistan and Iraq do not mean that the only tool in the American arsenal is military force. This makes perfect sense, but it introduces the question: how will the Iranian bomb be stopped?

    Even before Bush's reelection, and despite their wish for his defeat, France and Germany have quietly moved to heal wounds from the bruising battle over the war in Iraq. They have, with the UK, led their own initiative to stop the Iranian nuclear program, which they claim is unacceptable.

    Unlike with Iraq, then, Bush's European problem was having to take yes for an answer. His reluctance was doubtless a function of both the ongoing embroilment in Iraq and the impending election.

    Now that the election is over, and the E-3 have had ample chance to coax Iran into compliance, there is little more time for "testing" Iranian intentions that are obvious for all to see.

    It is not clear that even the threat of painful UN Security Council sanctions will induce Iran to demonstratively abandon its nuclear program. What is clear is that nothing short of such a threat has a hope of success, and that sanctions are the best hope for avoiding the need to take military action.

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