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(WP) – 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.

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WASHINGTON – (NYT) -The International Atomic Energy Agency said Friday that it had confronted Iran for the first time with evidence supplied by the United States and other countries that strongly suggested the country had experimented with technology to make a nuclear weapon, but that Iranian officials dismissed the documents obtained from an Iranian scientist as “baseless and fabricated.”The exchange was contained in an 11-page report in which the agency painted a mixed picture of Iran’s activities, saying Iranian officials had answered a number of long-standing questions about its nuclear activities but continued to defy the United Nations Security Council by refusing to halt the enrichment of uranium. Still, the amount of uranium that the agency reported that the country has produced so far was small — roughly a tenth of the amount that would be required to produce enough fuel for a single nuclear bomb.

The agency’s report was published at a moment that the Bush Administration’s efforts to greatly increase the pressure on the country is in disarray.

A National Intelligence Estimate published in early December concluded, to the surprise of many in the White House, that Iran had suspended its work on a weapons design in late 2003, apparently in response to growing international pressure. That report immediately undercut President Bush’s effort, in his last year in office, to rally other nations to impose harsh financial sanctions on Iran for continuing to produce uranium fuel. Russia and China, both of which have deep commercial relationships with Iran, have made clear they would not go along with severe sanctions, and a watered-down set of new sanctions is now headed back to the Security Council.

America’s allies in Europe have expressed puzzlement about the intelligence estimate, and some have suggested its timing was intended to reduce the chances that Mr. Bush could take military action against Iran’s nuclear sites in coming months, a notion intelligence officials deny. In recent weeks the director of national intelligence, Mike McConnell, told Congress he now has regrets about how the intelligence estimate was presented, saying it had failed to emphasize that Iran is moving ahead with the hardest part of any bomb project: Producing the fuel. Designing a crude weapon is considered a far easier task.

It was the evidence that Iran was secretly working on such a design for many years that is now at the heart of the confrontation between Iran and the nuclear agency, which is based in Vienna.

Since 2005, the I.A.E.A. has urged the United States and other countries to allow the agency to confront Iran with evidence obtained on a laptop computer that once belonged to an Iranian technician with access to the country’s nuclear program. But the U.S. refused until a few weeks ago, and only agreed on Feb. 15, the report said, to allow original documents to be shown to the Iranians. In the report issued Friday, the agency described some of that evidence in public for the first time, “all of which the Agency believes would be relevant to nuclear weapon R & D.”

The most suspicious-looking document in the collection turned over to the I.A.E.A. was a schematic diagram showing what appeared to be the development of a warhead, with a layout of internal components. “This layout has been assessed by the agency as quite likely to be able to accommodate a nuclear device,” the I.A.E.A. wrote. But that does not prove it was a nuclear warhead, and Iran argued that its missile program used “conventional warheads only.”

The report referred to other documents drawn from the laptop — though the source of the material was never mentioned — that included documents describing how to test “high-voltage detonator firing equipment” and technology to fire multiple detonators at one time, which is required to trigger a nuclear reaction by forcing a nuclear core to implode. The report also described work on whether a detonation could be triggered in a 400-meter-deep shaft from a distance of 10 kilometers, or about six miles, leading to suspicions that the Iranian scientists were already thinking about nuclear testing. But it is unclear whether the shaft would have been wide enough for a nuclear weapon.

In a briefing for reporters and nuclear experts on Friday, a senior I.A.E.A. official said that the agency had reached no independent conclusions about whether the documents added up to an effort to build a nuclear weapon, or whether those efforts were suspended more than four years ago, as the National Intelligence Estimate concluded. “At this point in time we don’t make any conclusion” about the documents, the official said.

David Albright, a former weapons inspector who now runs the Institute for Science and International Security, said that “The issue now is whether this is symptomatic of a comprehensive nuclear weapons effort, or just individual projects. Is it part of a plan to design and develop a weapon that can fit on a nuclear missile? And if so, why are so many pieces missing?”

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(NYT) – A popular video on YouTube shows Kellie Pickler, the adorable platinum blonde from “American Idol,” appearing on the Fox game show “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” during celebrity week. Selected from a third-grade geography curriculum, the $25,000 question asked: “Budapest is the capital of what European country?”

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          Susan Jacoby
Ms. Pickler threw up both hands and looked at the large blackboard perplexed. “I thought Europe was a country,” she said. Playing it safe, she chose to copy the answer offered by one of the genuine fifth graders: Hungary. “Hungry?” she said, eyes widening in disbelief. “That’s a country? I’ve heard of Turkey. But Hungry? I’ve never heard of it.”
Such, uh, lack of global awareness is the kind of thing that drives Susan Jacoby, author of “The Age of American Unreason,” up a wall. Ms. Jacoby is one of a number of writers with new books that bemoan the state of American culture.Joining the circle of curmudgeons this season is Eric G. Wilson, whose “Against Happiness” warns that the “American obsession with happiness” could “well lead to a sudden extinction of the creative impulse, that could result in an extermination as horrible as those foreshadowed by global warming and environmental crisis and nuclear proliferation.”

Then there is Lee Siegel’s “Against the Machine: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob,” which inveighs against the Internet for encouraging solipsism, debased discourse and arrant commercialization. Mr. Siegel, one might remember, was suspended by The New Republic for using a fake online persona in order to trash critics of his blog (“you couldn’t tie Siegel’s shoelaces”) and to praise himself (“brave, brilliant”).

Ms. Jacoby, whose book came out on Tuesday, doesn’t zero in on a particular technology or emotion, but rather on what she feels is a generalized hostility to knowledge. She is well aware that some may tag her a crank. “I expect to get bashed,” said Ms. Jacoby, 62, either as an older person who upbraids the young for plummeting standards and values, or as a secularist whose defense of scientific rationalism is a way to disparage religion.

Ms. Jacoby, however, is quick to point out that her indictment is not limited by age or ideology. Yes, she knows that eggheads, nerds, bookworms, longhairs, pointy heads, highbrows and know-it-alls have been mocked and dismissed throughout American history. And liberal and conservative writers, from Richard Hofstadter to Allan Bloom, have regularly analyzed the phenomenon and offered advice.

T. J. Jackson Lears, a cultural historian who edits the quarterly review Raritan, said, “The tendency to this sort of lamentation is perennial in American history,” adding that in periods “when political problems seem intractable or somehow frozen, there is a turn toward cultural issues.”

But now, Ms. Jacoby said, something different is happening: anti-intellectualism (the attitude that “too much learning can be a dangerous thing”) and anti-rationalism (“the idea that there is no such things as evidence or fact, just opinion”) have fused in a particularly insidious way.

Not only are citizens ignorant about essential scientific, civic and cultural knowledge, she said, but they also don’t think it matters.

She pointed to a 2006 National Geographic poll that found nearly half of 18- to 24-year-olds don’t think it is necessary or important to know where countries in the news are located. So more than three years into the Iraq war, only 23 percent of those with some college could locate Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel on a map.

Ms. Jacoby, dressed in a bright red turtleneck with lipstick to match, was sitting, appropriately, in that temple of knowledge, the New York Public Library’s majestic Beaux Arts building on Fifth Avenue. The author of seven other books, she was a fellow at the library when she first got the idea for this book back in 2001, on 9/11.

Walking home to her Upper East Side apartment, she said, overwhelmed and confused, she stopped at a bar. As she sipped her bloody mary, she quietly listened to two men, neatly dressed in suits. For a second she thought they were going to compare that day’s horrifying attack to the Japanese bombing in 1941 that blew America into World War II:

“This is just like Pearl Harbor,” one of the men said.

The other asked, “What is Pearl Harbor?”

“That was when the Vietnamese dropped bombs in a harbor, and it started the Vietnam War,” the first man replied.

At that moment, Ms. Jacoby said, “I decided to write this book.”

Ms. Jacoby doesn’t expect to revolutionize the nation’s educational system or cause millions of Americans to switch off “American Idol” and pick up Schopenhauer. But she would like to start a conversation about why the United States seems particularly vulnerable to such a virulent strain of anti-intellectualism. After all, “the empire of infotainment doesn’t stop at the American border,” she said, yet students in many other countries consistently outperform American students in science, math and reading on comparative tests.

In part, she lays the blame on a failing educational system. “Although people are going to school more and more years, there’s no evidence that they know more,” she said.

Ms. Jacoby also blames religious fundamentalism’s antipathy toward science, as she grieves over surveys that show that nearly two-thirds of Americans want creationism to be taught along with evolution.

Ms. Jacoby doesn’t leave liberals out of her analysis, mentioning the New Left’s attacks on universities in the 1960s, the decision to consign African-American and women’s studies to an “academic ghetto” instead of integrating them into the core curriculum, ponderous musings on rock music and pop culture courses on everything from sitcoms to fat that trivialize college-level learning.

Avoiding the liberal or conservative label in this particular argument, she prefers to call herself a “cultural conservationist.”

For all her scholarly interests, though, Ms. Jacoby said she recognized just how hard it is to tune out the 24/7 entertainment culture. A few years ago she participated in the annual campaign to turn off the television for a week. “I was stunned at how difficult it was for me,” she said.

The surprise at her own dependency on electronic and visual media made her realize just how pervasive the culture of distraction is and how susceptible everyone is — even curmudgeons.

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