Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad touring the Natanz uranium enrichment facilities this week. (Getty Images)
On Tuesday Iran announced it was installing 6,000 more centrifuges -- they produce enriched uranium, the key ingredient of a nuclear weapon -- in addition to the 3,000 already operating. The world yawned.
It is time to admit the truth: The Bush administration's attempt to halt Iran's nuclear program has failed. Utterly. The latest round of U.N. Security Council sanctions, which took a year to achieve, is comically weak. It represents the end of the sanctions road.
At home, the president's efforts to stop Iran's nuclear program were irreparably undermined by November's National Intelligence Estimate, whose "moderate confidence" that Iran has not restarted nuclear weaponization -- the least important of three elements of any nuclear program -- has promoted the illusion that Iran has given up the pursuit of nuclear weapons. Yet uranium enrichment, the most difficult step, proceeds apace, as does the development of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles.
The president is out of options. He is going to hand over to his successor an Iran on the verge of going nuclear. This will deeply destabilize the Middle East, threaten the moderate Arabs with Iranian hegemony and leave Israel on hair-trigger alert.
This failure can, however, be mitigated. As there will apparently be no disarming of Iran by preemption or by sanctions, we shall have to rely on deterrence to prevent the mullahs, some of whom are apocalyptic and messianic, from using nuclear weapons.
This will be even more difficult than during the Cold War, when we were dealing with rational actors. We will, nonetheless, have to use the Cold War model in which deterrence prevented the Soviets from engaging in nuclear aggression for half a century -- long enough for regime change to make deterrence superfluous. (No one lies awake today worrying about post-Soviet Russia launching a nuclear attack on the United States.) We don't know how long the mullahs will be in power, but until they are replaced, deterrence will be an absolute necessity.
During the Cold War, we were successful in preventing an attack not only on the United States but also on America's allies. We did it by extending the American nuclear umbrella -- i.e., declaring that any attack on our allies would be considered an attack on the United States.
Such a threat is never 100 percent credible. But it was credible enough. It made the Soviets think twice about attacking our European allies. It kept the peace.
We should do the same to keep nuclear peace in the Middle East. It would be infinitely less dangerous (and therefore more credible) than the Cold War deterrence because there will be no threat from Iran of the annihilation of the United States. Iran, unlike the Soviet Union, would have a relatively tiny arsenal incapable of reaching the United States.
How to create deterrence? The way John Kennedy did during the Cuban missile crisis. President Bush's greatest contribution to nuclear peace would be to issue the following declaration, adopting Kennedy's language while changing the names of the miscreants:
"It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear attack upon Israel by Iran, or originating in Iran, as an attack by Iran on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon Iran."
This should be followed with a simple explanation: "As a beacon of tolerance and as leader of the free world, the United States will not permit a second Holocaust to be perpetrated upon the Jewish people."
This policy -- the Holocaust Declaration -- would not be tested during the current administration, because Iran is not going to go nuclear before January 2009. But it would establish a firm benchmark that would outlive this administration. Every future president -- and every serious presidential candidate -- would have to publicly state whether or not the Holocaust Declaration remains the policy of the United States.
It would be an important question to ask because it would not be uncontroversial. It would be argued that the Holocaust Declaration is either redundant or, at the other extreme, provocative.
Redundant, it would be said, because Israel could retaliate on its own. The problem is that Israel is a very small country with a small nuclear arsenal that is largely land-based. Land-based retaliatory forces can be destroyed in a first strike, which is precisely why, during the Cold War, both the United States and the Soviet Union created vast submarine fleets -- undetectable and thus invulnerable to first strikes -- that ensured a retaliatory strike and, thus, deterrence. The invulnerability and unimaginably massive size of this American nuclear arsenal would make an American deterrent far more potent and reliable than any Israeli facsimile -- and thus far more likely to keep the peace.
Would such a declaration be provocative? On the contrary. Deterrence is the least provocative of all policies. That is why it is the favored alternative of those who oppose a preemptive attack on Iran to disarm it before it can acquire nuclear weapons. What the Holocaust declaration would do is turn deterrence from a slogan into a policy.
It is, of course, hardly certain that deterrence would work on the likes of Ahmadinejad and other jihadists. But deterrence would concentrate the minds of rational Iranian actors, of whom there are many, to restrain or even depose leaders such as Ahmadinejad who might sacrifice Iran's existence as a nation to vindicate their divine obligation to exterminate the "filthy bacteria" of the Jewish state, a "disgraceful stain [on] the Islamic world."
For the first time since the time of Jesus, Israel (known as Judea at the time) is the home of the world's largest Jewish community. An implacable neighboring power has openly declared genocidal intentions against it -- in clear violation of the U.N. Charter -- and is defying the international community by pursuing the means to carry out that intent. The world does nothing. Some, such as the Russians, are literally providing fuel for the fire.
For those who see no moral principle underlying American foreign policy, the Holocaust Declaration is no business of ours. But for those who believe that America stands for something in the world -- that the nation that has liberated more peoples than any other has even the most minimal moral vocation -- there can be no more pressing cause than preventing the nuclear annihilation of an allied democracy, the last refuge and hope of an ancient people openly threatened with the final Final Solution.