22 June 2008

The Two Voices of ElBaradei

In related stories reported by Fox News on Saturday, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) head Mohamed ElBaradei made two interestingly contradictory statements. Both regard middle east nations greatly suspected of hiding nuclear arms programs.

First, Mr. ElBaradei said, “We will go (to Syria) with open eyes and we will observe the facts ... All I ask of Syria is to show absolute transparency and help" the IAEA probe…I hope that Syria will take us to all the locations.” Note that the first public “transparency” of Syria’s suspected nuclear program came when (apparently) Israel bombed a site containing a clandestine reactor.

That hard fact, however, was derided by Mr. ElBaradei. From the same Fox News story: “ElBaradei again rebuked Israel for the bombing. ‘Before (Israel's) hitting Syria ... we could have had the time to go to Syria to investigate and learn of any covert Syrian reactor.’” Mr. ElBAradei’s wishful, toothless, subjunctive thinking does nothing to dissuade countries with nuclear ambitions, especially autocratic regimes.

Sometimes, the one thing that can discourage the nuclear ambitions of rouge countries is military action. Israel has twice shown the foresight and courage to undertake such missions. Recent Israeli military exercises over the Mediterranean and Greece may indicate their willingness to undertake a third, this time against Iran. But in anticipation of such a possibility, another Fox News article reports Mr. ElBaradei warned that “a military strike will be the worst ... it will turn the Middle East to a ball of fire.” Mr. Elbaradei may even resign if such an attack occurs.

These two comments, to the best of my knowledge, were made by Mr. Elbaradei on the same day.

What I take from this is that Mr. Elbaradei would rather talk his way, negotiate his way, into a nuclear-armed Iran than actually prevent such a development. His own contention is that anything but negotiations will result in a region-wide war. At the same time as he warns against taking any military action against Iran, he hopes that Syria will be open and honest with the IAEA.

There is one important difference between Iran and Syria; Syria’s reactor site was hit and Iran is at the moment still closed – to inspectors or armed intervention. As the IAEA has no teeth, there is no need for Iran to open its doors. Syria had its doors kicked in, and now the IAEA may take a peek about.

Please note that I am not advocating military action against any and every country suspected of this and that. That sort of thinking is simplistic and highly dangerous. There are many ways to resolve difficult issues, such as Iran’s nuclear ambitions. But the means must have teeth – political, economic, and in the last resort, military. Mr. Elbaradei would use a toothless mouth to negotiate, warning that taking overt measures only results in “ball[s] of fire”. Such toothless negotiations are empty, as has been demonstrated again and again.

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