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It's time to get tough with Iran through gas sanctions

Maybe one of these days, the United States and Europe will take the Iranian threat seriously enough to do something besides saying we may get very, very tough soon. When, I ask? After Israel has been wiped off the map as promised by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, or after there's been a Middle East arms race or after Israel has carried out a pre-emptive strike, setting off World War III?

At least one thing ought to be clear to anyone paying any attention at all to what's going on, and it's that this is a major issue, far more important than the terrorist fright Americans now seem most obsessed about — the mistake of affording criminal trials to foreign terrorists at war with us.

It's big stuff because the radical, hate-filled, unpredictable, fundamentalist nutcases who run Iran are marching toward the possession of nuclear weapons, and all kinds of evil could flow from that fact. Think of it: threats of war anytime Iran does not get its way; nuclear proliferation as surrounding nations equip themselves to fight back; easier access to enriched uranium by terrorists; Israel rushing to protect itself from holocaust; a conflagration that starts in the Middle East and spreads globally.

The only people blind enough to insist Iran has nothing on its mind but nuclear power plants producing electricity are leftists, of course. To them, it makes perfect sense that Iran would reject all kinds of sweetheart deals to build its power plants if it would just allow for verification that nothing amiss is going on. Naturally, a peaceful nation with no ulterior intent would prefer the extra expense, trade difficulties and widespread wrath just for the fun of it. But then, maybe the leftists think this behavior insufficient to override Iran's overall reputation for reasonable, responsible behavior. Good grief.

Then there are those who say, oh, don't worry, we can contain Iran — hey, we did that with the Soviet Union, didn't we? First off, as I have already rehearsed, keeping Iran from using its nukes would not be the only matter of concern. Second, we were dealing with rational actors in the Soviet Union. It is not clear we are dealing with rational actors in Iran. It is, in fact, pretty clear we are dealing with fanatics. And third, no containment policy can conceivably be foolproof. Every time nuclear weapons are obtained by a new nation, especially a rogue nation, risks increase. How much risk should we abide?

Now, with Iran enriching uranium more than ever, playing evil despot with growing numbers of brave dissidents, kidnapping American hikers and enlarging its missile arsenal, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has worried aloud about the prospect of "a military dictatorship" and National Security Adviser James Jones is talking about seeking U.N. sanctions stern enough to help the dissidents come to power.

My sense is that Clinton has the right instincts here, but the U.N. excursion is doomed to failure. You need China to go along, and it won't. Russia might not, either. I am with former CIA agent Reuel Marc Gerecht, who writes in The Weekly Standard that the way to help enable a new revolution in Iran is for the United States and Europe to impose "crippling" gas sanctions on Iran. If we stand up with enough strength and purpose and determination, we could just maybe save the situation.

Will the United States and Europe do this thing? The rather weak, wishy-washy record to date would seem to indicate otherwise, but perhaps after a failure at the United Nations and a recognition that the option of a last-minute military strike could be disastrous for everyone's interests, the Obama administration will try. Given what is at stake, it seems to me it must.

Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado. He can be reached at