There you have it. We are going through this painful excersie in futility to demonstrate taht futility before we take effective action.
The cowboy has been retired. Multilateralism is back. Diplomacy is king. That's the conventional wisdom about George W. Bush's second term: Under the influence of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the administration has finally embraced "the allies."
This is considered a radical change of course. It is not. Even the most ardent unilateralist always prefers multilateral support under one of two conditions: (1) There is something the allies will actually help accomplish or (2) there is nothing to be done anyway, so multilateralism gives you the cover of appearing to do something.
The six-party negotiations on North Korea are an example of the second. North Korea went nuclear a long time ago. Our time to act was during the Bush 41 and Clinton administrations. Nothing was done. And nothing can be done now. Once a country has gone nuclear, there is no return. The nukes themselves act as a deterrent against military measures. And no diplomat, however mellifluous, is going to talk a nuclear North Korea into dismantling the one thing that gives it any significance in the world.
Like most multilateral efforts, the six-party talks give only the appearance of activity, thereby providing cover to a hopelessly lost cause. Nothing wrong with that kind of multilateralism.
Iran's answer is now in. It will not. Indeed, on the day before it sent its reply to the United Nations, Iran barred International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors from the uranium enrichment facilities at Natanz. Our exercise in multilateralism has now reached criticality. We never expected Iran to respond positively. The whole point in going the extra mile was to demonstrate American good will and thus get our partners to support real sanctions at the Security Council.
But this will not work. The Russians and Chinese are already sending signals that they will allow Iran to endlessly drag out the process. Even if we do get sanctions imposed on Iran, they will undoubtedly be weak. And even if they are strong, the mullahs will not give up the glory and dominion (especially over the Arabs) that come with the bomb in exchange for a mess of pottage.
Realistically speaking, the point of this multilateral exercise cannot be to stop Iran's nuclear program by diplomacy. That has always been a fantasy. It will take military means. There would be terrible consequences from an attack. These must be weighed against the terrible consequences of allowing an openly apocalyptic Iranian leadership to acquire weapons of genocide.
The point of the current elaborate exercise in multilateral diplomacy is to slightly alter that future calculation. By demonstrating extraordinary forbearance and accommodation, perhaps we will have purchased the acquiescence of our closest allies -- Britain, Germany and, yes, France -- to a military strike on that fateful day when diplomacy has run its course.