White House Criticized for Being Soft on Iran

Although President Bush has designated Iran as one of three countries in the "axis of evil," and the country is believed to possess weapons of mass destruction, some experts say Washington needs to be more aggressive toward Tehran.

Those same analysts explain why Iran has earned a mere slap on the wrist when the Bush administration's so-called "first-strike doctrine" (search) says to strike against countries that pose a clear and present danger to U.S. national security.

"Because it's tough — the reason you went to Iraq was that it was doable," said Larry Korb, director of national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations (search) and former assistant defense secretary under the first President Bush. "If you looked at [the administration's] rhetoric, it should have been North Korea first, Iran second and Iraq third."

Iran's nuclear weapons program combined with Bush's promise to go after terrorists and the countries that support them would put Tehran in a prime position to become Washington's next whipping post in the global war on terror.

But the administration so far seems to be taking the diplomatic and multilateral route.

"We've got to work in a collective way with other nations to remind Iran that they shouldn't develop a nuclear weapon," Bush said in a Rose Garden press conference last month. "It's going to require more than one voice saying that, however."

Secretary of State Colin Powell said last week that Iran has been told it's time to end its terrorism support, particularly in the Middle East, where Israelis and Palestinians are trying to work out a peace process.

According to the State Department, Iran is the world's "most active state sponsor of terrorism," and offers support to Palestinian terror groups Hamas (search) and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (search). It also backs the Lebanese Shi'ite extremists of Hezbollah (search) and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (search).

Lawmakers like Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., have introduced measures for the United States and other countries to address Iran's nuclear program.

Others are keeping a close eye on ways to overturn the Islamic regime that currently rules the country.

"The Iranian government is a terrorist state … as a terrorist, it has to be dealt with as such," Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., told Fox News. "We need a proactive policy and an intense policy to … see the creation of an Iranian government that is representative of the Iranian people that does not harbor terrorists."

Although international nuclear inspectors are in Tehran checking out the facilities, experts say Iran won't do away with its nuclear program if it can help it.

"Iran has invested too much pride, money and scientific-technical talent in building its nascent nuclear infrastructure to abandon it completely," George Perkovich, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (search), wrote in a paper released in April on Iran's nuclear program. "No country is more difficult for the U.S. to engage diplomatically than Iran."

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (search), is extremely anti-American and anti-Western hardliners dominate the Iranian military and intelligence services.

According to the CIA, Iran has blood, blister and choking chemical agents that could be used as weapons of mass destruction and missiles and the shells to deliver them. Aside from its efforts to build nuclear weapons, Tehran also has an active biological weapons program and, with Russia's help, is building a nuclear power plant. It also has hundreds of Scuds and other short-range ballistic missiles, according to the Council on Foreign Relations, and is developing longer-range ones.

But a one-size-fits-all approach to nations that don’t shun all terrorists may not work in the global war on terror, Korb said.

"Bush says you're either with us or against us — it doesn't work that way," Korb said.

For example, Iran aided humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan and offered help on search-and-rescue missions for American troops during Operation Enduring Freedom. But last week, it said it would not allow the United States to interrogate Al Qaeda members it has in custody, including Usama bin Laden's son.

"I think what you have to be careful of in foreign policy is the hypocrisy," Korb said. "To beat Hitler, we had to align ourselves with Stalin."