Ever since George W. decided to turn his efforts primarily toward domestic policy, the neocons holed up in the Pentagon and the Vice President's Office have been remarkably quiet or increasingly embattled. Douglas Feith resigned and was replaced by a career foreign service officer; Paul Wolfowitz quit for a "promotion" to the World Bank; and John Bolton is getting hammered by his own party in his quest to become ambassador to the United Nations.
Most notably, however, has been the relatively non-confrontational policy toward Iran. While the neocons have been crying for blood (of both Iranian mullahs and liberal US senators) for months now over the issue, the White House has done little more than give lip service to neocon dreams of furthering the "democratic revolution" in Iran, and when Ariel Sharon visited Bush in April down at the ranch, the rotund Prime Minister felt he had to strike fear back into American hearts which had become rather lacksadaisical over the prospects of a nuclear Iran.
All this is by way of prefacing the opening this week of the 2005 Review Conference of the States Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (let's just call it the "NPT conference" for short). The Bush administration wants the talks to be all about bringing the hammer down on Iran; in the words of US Assistant Secretary of State Stephen Rademaker,
Today, the treaty is facing the most serious challenge in its history due to instances of noncomplianceFair enough. North Korea and Iran both are in all likelihood violating the treaty. Yet many non-nuclear countries are eager to point out how the US is hardly a paragon of NPT virtue, either. The US stockpile of nuclear weapons has barely shrunk at all for the past ten years, and the Moscow Treaty -- which Rademaker touted yesterday as proof that the US is committed to "general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control" (as the NPT Article VI requires) -- has been called by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists
a sham, a "memorandum of conversation" masquerading as a treatyThrow on top of that the Bush administration's refusal to sign the TEst Ban Treaty and its unilateral withdrawl from the ABM Treaty and you start to get the idea that Bush's only real interest is in keeping other kids out of the club, rather than shutting the club down.
Which is of course bad enough from Iran's point of view since it is clear the US is committed to "regime change" in Tehran. But then consider that Iran has for neighbors two nuclear powers -- Israel and Pakistan -- which are both close allies of the United States neither of which are signatories to the NPT and thus are completely free from the NPT's compliance regime. No wonder Iran is dancing the two-step.
If the United States was serious about nuclear disarmament, I'd find it a lot easier to support the Bushies' moral outrage at the Iranian nuclear program. As it stands, however, what the hell else would you expect the Iranians to do in this situation?
Which brings me finally back to the neocons. It is in their interests to ratchet up the diatribe this week at the UN, and the more shrill Rademaker becomes, the more evidence we have that the neocons are still throwing their weight around. But then actions speak louder than words; is the US going to send more spy planes over Iran nuclear facilities? Start more provocatives flights, looking for a fight? It is hard to believe that Ariel Sharon is simply sitting by hoping the Bush administration takes this all as seriously as he does; he's surely been pumping his neocon allies in Washington for months over it. Since the US has virtually no economic leverage over Iran do to a complete lack of ties with the country, pushing for sanctions in the UN is easy and costless. A more provocative military stance would speak volumes about the real power of the neocons in this second George W. administration.