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What To Do On Iran

As if the world needed any more reminders about just what a threat a nuclear-armed regime in Iran would pose to the world in general, and to Israel in particular, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad again made it clear at a conference today in support of the Palestinians: "Like it or not, the Zionist regime is heading toward annihilation. The Zionist regime is a rotten, dried tree that will be eliminated by one storm." Ahmadinejad also told the crowd that "Palestine will be freed soon" and that Israel represents a "permanent threat" that has "harmed the dignity of Islamic nations."

It is not a stretch in the slightest to say that Ahmadinejad is the greatest threat the world has seen since Hitler. Debates about his mental stability or whether he may or may not be purely full of bluster are somewhat beside the point: the world has no choice but to take his threats at face value.

Yesterday's report in the New York Times that Iran is years away from having the capacity to make a nuclear bomb offers some comfort - though not much. As we learned in places like Pakistan, North Korea, and Iraq, it is extremely difficult to get a solid idea of what is happening inside closed, authoritarian regimes where clandestine operations are the norm. It's possible Iran may be much closer to a nuclear weapon than we think, and the bizarre public celebration over a tiny amount of enriched uranium the other day may have been specifically designed to give the world the impression that Iran is further away from acquiring the capacity to build a nuke than is truly the case. The point is that while we can (and should) make our best guess about Iran's potential nuclear capabilities, we can't be sure - and the costs of guessing wrong could be severe.

So what to do? Yesterday in The Australian Brent Scowcroft suggested the following:

The five permanent members of the UN Security Council should be prepared to make the following offer to Iran. Acknowledging that Tehran has every right to exploit nuclear energy for civilian use, Iran should be guaranteed an adequate supply of nuclear fuel for its reactors in return for abiding by all International Atomic Energy Agency regulations. This, in turn, should serve as the basis for a new international fuel-cycle regime that applies to all countries. Any approach to stemming nuclear proliferation that singles out specific countries - such as the Bush administration is doing with Iran - is not likely to succeed.

Today in the International Herald Tribune, Dr. Henry Kissinger discusses America's policy of preemptive force in the context of nuclear proliferation and comes to the following conclusions:

The analysis underlying the Strategic Doctrine document is correct in emphasizing that the changes in the international environment create a propensity toward some forms of preventive strategy.

But stating the theory is only a first step. The concept must be applied to specific, concrete contingencies; courses of action need to be analyzed not only in terms of threats but of outcomes and consequences.

Finally, a policy that allows for preventive force can sustain the international system only if solitary American enterprises are the rare exception, not the basic rule of American strategy.

The other major nations have a similar responsibility to take the new challenges seriously and to treat them as something beyond the sole responsibility of America. The major nations are all dependent on the global economic system. They are all threatened if ideology and weapons run out of control.

The challenge is to build a viable international order without the impetus of having survived catastrophe.

Obviously, Kissinger's last conclusion is key: that other nations take threats like Iran seriously and bear their share of the burden and responsibility for dealing with them. But as Gerard Baker wrote yesterday at RealClearPolitics, the prospects for building a coalition to deal with Iran's nuclear belligerence seem depressingly bleak at the moment.