iran, iraq, and the future of american policy
Anyone who hasn't been on Mars knows that the United States is threatening Iran with military action if it doesn't abandon its nuclear program, while anyone who hasn't been on Venus knows that the war in Iraq is not going smoothly. Most commentators seem to assume that the second means the first won't happen. I think this is wrong for several reasons.
The underlying facts about Iran are that it (i) is an enemy of the United States and its allies, which openly supports what we believe to be terrorism and calls for the destruction of our principal friend in the region, and (ii) will almost certainly acquire nuclear weapons within the next few years if nothing is done to stop it . To use the language of foreign policy, Iran has both the intention to harm the U.S. and its allies and is rapidly acquiring the capability to do so. The combination of these facts distinguishes Iran from any of the parallels commonly advanced: from the Iraqi situation, because both the enmity of Iraq and its nuclear weapons program were always more hazy than Iran's; from North Korea, which is closer to a blackmail situation than a serious, long-term strategic threat; from India, Pakistan, or other holders of nuclear weapons, which met the second but not the first of the two conditions (although Pakistan's subsequent behavior makes one wonder in this case also). Nor is Iran comparable to Russia, China, or other previous rivals, who were both far larger than Iran and much less likely, on balance, to use any weapons they acquired.
There are many good arguments for attacking Iran, and many good arguments against it, including technical difficulties and the likelihood that an attack will trigger a stream of events even worse than an Iranian bomb. (I tend to believe that the former problem is overstated, but the latter may actually be worse than imagined, although it is hard to see how the bomb would be better). But I simply cannot think of any historic situation in which a country or countries, facing a stated enemy who is intent on acquiring a weapon that it is plainly designed for use against them--and having at least a reasonable opportunity to forego or delay that acquisition without unbearable costs--have permitted them to do so. The language of Bush's critics, who increasingly claim that he lied us into the Iraq war, in a curious way works against them here, much as the rage for DNA evidence has inadvertenty strengthened the death penalty in cases where such evidence is found. If Bush's "lies" mean we shouldn't have invaded Iraq, doesn't the obvious truth about Iran's intentions--a truth which no one (Britain, France, the IAEA) seriously denies--imply the opposite this time?