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Analysis: Three crises pileup?

By ARNAUD DE BORCHGRAVE, UPI Editor at Large

WASHINGTON, Dec. 21 (UPI) -- The year 2006 was the year the Bush administration reluctantly concluded al-Qaida was only a small part of a global challenge, which is as ideologically motivated as communism was against freedom during the 45-year Cold War.

America's enemies took advantage of a quagmired U.S. in Iraq to advance their quest for membership in the nuclear club. North Korea blasted its way into the club to become its ninth member and Iran was well on its way to becoming number ten. Both North Korea and Iran long ago concluded that nuclear power was the only credible deterrent against a U.S. attack. The U.S. predicament also gave Iran a rare opportunity to push its radical Shiite pawns forward in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.

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If president Bush decides to dispatch 20,000 to 30,000 additional troops to try to bring insurgents to heel in Baghdad, a move opposed by several top generals, the Vietnamese precedent is worth recalling. Some 16,000 U.S. troops were in-country by the time President Kennedy was assassinated in Nov. 1963. Upon the recommendation of Gen. Maxwell Taylor in the fall of 1961, their status gradually morphed from adviser to South Vietnamese forces to fighting personnel. President Johnson escalated to 546,000 troops. The last U.S. soldier left Vietnam in March 1973. Saigon fell to communist forces two years later.

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The Bush administration suspends disbelief that close ally President Musharraf of Pakistan is betting against the U.S. prevailing in Iraq and staying the course in Afghanistan. The appalling truth is Musharraf's geopolitical calculation has given the green light to his Inter-Services Intelligence agency to resume covert assistance to the Taliban, now fighting NATO and the U.S. in Afghanistan.

Husain Haqqani, director of Boston University's Center for International Relations, is a Pakistani scholar who served as adviser to Pakistan's principal political leaders - former Prime Ministers Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto, both now in exile abroad. Writing about Musharraf's apostasy, Haqqani says, "Pakistan's powerful...ISI never liked the idea of removing the Taliban from power in the first place. Instead of ensuring a friendly government in Kabul by working with whoever is in power there, ISI has long been wedded to the idea of installing its clients and allies as Afghanistan's rulers. Unfortunately (ISI) has repeatedly chosen extremists unacceptable to the international community for that role, including the Taliban." Haqqani once worked at the ISI.

Rather than face the consequences of Musharraf's betrayal, the Bush administration has opted for a state of denial. Facing two major foreign crises at a time is already more than the Beltway traffic can bear. A third would risk a major pileup. Bush has recalibrated Iraq from "we're winning" certitude to "not-winning-not-losing" uncertainty.

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Israel and the Bush administration still believe they can put an end to Iran's nuclear ambitions before the mullahocracy develops a deliverable nuclear weapon -- either through terrorists or in the nose cone of a Shahab-3 missile with a range of 1,800 kilometers (1,280 miles), which are also flown by North Korea and Pakistan.

Clearly, whatever watered down compromise the U.N. Security Council's five permanent members plus Germany can agree to, Iran won't be deterred. Much has been made of Iran's Achilles' heel, e.g., its limited refining capacity for gasoline to keep almost five million vehicles on the road. Three out of four cars are more than 30 years old or have logged 120,000 miles (President Ahmadinejad drives a battered 20-year-old Peugeot). Even though it pumps 10 percent of the world's oil, Iran still has to import 43 percent of its gasoline,

Iran's staunch ally Venezuela has pledged to make up whatever shortfall occurs. Cars and trucks are being converted to run on natural gas at over 100 conversion centers. The government believes this will save $5 billion a year on gasoline imports. Iran has the world's second largest natural gas reserve after Russia -- 16 percent of the world's total.

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Undeterred by university students burning his poster picture in front of him, president Ahmadinejad evidently reckons that whatever economic sanctions are agreed by the world's principal powers won't bite. With a second U.S. carrier task force about to leave for the Gulf, he must be assuming that air strikes -- Israeli and/or U.S. -- may kick in before the end of president Bush's second term. Iran's intensive natural gas preparations are a clear sign it is girding for the possibility of war. Its limited refining capacity will be earmarked for jet fuel to keep its air force and commercial airliners flying and for diesel for its army and navy.

Baiting the U.S. and its allies, Ahmadinejad announced Iran "is now a nuclear power" and added the United States and Britain to Israel on the list of countries doomed to disappear. "The Iranian nation will continue on its nuclear path powerfully and will celebrate a nuclear victory soon," said the diminutive president.

Radical Islam is not confined to Iraq and Iran. It is spreading among Europe's 20 million Muslims from Sweden to Spain. Militant minorities reject multiculturalism. And non-Muslim Europeans are beginning to reassess their pre-World War II and post-Cold War doctrine that appeasement is the better part of valor.

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In Berlin, Mozart's Idomeneo went forward with a scene that shows the severed head of Prophet Muhammad, along with the heads of Jesus, Buddha and Poseidon, Greek God of the seas, tumbling out of a sack humped by Idomeneo. It was director Hans Neuenfels' idea of a protest against all organized religions.

Pentagon contingency plans for air strikes against Iran's nuclear facilities would be incomplete without an analysis of likely repercussions throughout the Middle East and the rest of the Muslim world. Europe's estimated one percent of violence-prone Muslims, or some 200,000 youths, should also be factored in.

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