The new issue of the Weekly Standard is focused on the hard case presented by Iran’s nuclear program. The lead piece is Reuel Marc Gerecht’s long and apparently comprehensive consideration of relevant factors: “To bomb, or not to bomb.” Gerecht writes:
Critical point: The Iranians–not the Americans–control this discussion and are circumscribing the diplomatic avenues the Bush administration is still determined to pursue. Tehran’s mullahs are unlikely to allow us any running room. Rafsanjani’s and Ahmadinejad’s recent statements about Iran succeeding in enriching uranium (level unspecified) and its readiness to begin industrial-scale production mean, among other things, that the clerical regime believes it now has the advantage (which it does).
The United Nations has again proven incapable of handling this challenge (the Russians and the Chinese will, so the Iranians believe, continue to block sanctions). And the Iranians have little reason so far to fear the Europeans. The Germans have repeatedly shown themselves uncomfortable with tough sanctions against Tehran, and the recent comments made by the German foreign minister recommending direct U.S.-Iranian talks signify, translated into Persian, that the Germans really don’t like the sanctions approach, even when pushed by France. Rafsanjani and Ahmadinejad are also saying that it’s too late; you can’t bomb us now since we’ve crossed the enrichment threshold. This certainly isn’t true–the Iranians don’t have enough centrifuges constructed and running–but it could become true, much faster than the Bush administration would like.
I’m afraid you have to read the whole thing, without a silver lining in sight.
JOHN adds: Maybe I’m completely wrong about this, but it strikes me as almost inconceivable that we could take any military action against Iran. The left’s attack on the Iraq war has been intended, in part, to destroy the Bush administration. But there is a second, equally important objective: by portraying the Iraq war as a disaster and turning American public opinion against it, the left hopes to reprise its Vietnam success by making it impossible, for a generation, for the U.S. to fight a meaningful war. Hasn’t that project been successful? I think it has, although whether its impact will last for a generation remains to be seen.
I think the Iranians feel secure because they read American newspapers and follow the polls. They know that any action against them by the Bush administration would be met with howls of protest from the Democrats and the left, and that the American public, convinced that Iraq has gone poorly, has no more appetite for military action. I think their calculation is correct.
PAUL adds: John may be right. However, the type of attack (if any) that probably is being contemplated would be limited to air strikes, which I think Americans might still support. The problem is that those strikes could lead to a stepped-up Iranian role in Iraq. The Bush administration naturally is not enthusiastic about taking action that might cause the situation in Iraq to deteriorate, much less action that might require sending more troops to Iraq.
Keep in mind, though, that Bush isn’t running for office again. And he has often been willing to act boldly in any case. If he thinks, after carefully weighing risks, that air strikes against nuclear-type facilities in Iran are the best course, it’s not unlikely that he will launch those strikes.