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A Sensible Plan For Iran

This column was written by Matthew Yglesias.

It occurs to me to mention that Atrios and Amy Sullivan can both be right about the subject of their disagreement on Iran. As Amy says, Iran probably is the biggest threat America faces today, at least in standard national-security terms. At the same time, as Atrios says, Iran's not really especially threatening in the greater scheme of things. It just so happens to be that by global or historical standards, the United States of America in the year 2006 holds an incredibly strong geopolitical position. Citizens are at a certain amount of risk of dying in a terrorist attack, and we are naturally all interested in reducing that risk. But unlike during the Cold War or much of earlier American history, it's hard to imagine a real existential threat of any sort emerging in the foreseeable future.

I also think Kevin Drum is right to suggest that Democrats would do well to prepare to be asked to vote on a resolution authorizing the use of force against Iran or to be forced to comment post hoc on a non-authorized airstrike. The former will create a formidable political problem. Tying the president's hands during an ongoing diplomatic process would probably be a bad thing. Actually launching a counterproliferation airstrike, on the other hand, is almost certainly a bad idea. And as we've learned recently, the Bush administration is not to be counted on to exercise such authority as it's granted, nor is it to be trusted to keep any promises it may implicitly or explicitly make in order to gain such authority. My strong suspicion, however, is that this last point will be a hard sell to the public. I don't envy the people whose responsibility it is to think about managing the politics of this question, but the ostrich strategy of ignoring it simply because it's more congenial to assume that corruption and the prescription drug fiasco (shades of 2002!) will carry the party through the midterms.

Substantively, this isn't an especially difficult question. Back in 2000, Condoleezza Rice wisely observed of so-called rogue states that "these regimes are living on borrowed time, so there need be no sense of panic about them. Rather, the first line of defense should be a clear and classical statement of deterrence — if they do acquire WMD their weapons will be unusable because any attempt to use them will bring national obliteration." Beyond that, it would certainly be preferable for Iran not to build nuclear weapons. The only reliable method of getting a country not to build nuclear weapons, however, is to persuade them that they'd prefer not to build them. Efforts toward that end involving multilateral diplomacy, such as that which the Bush administration unwisely refused to engage in for many years and has wisely been engaging in for the past year or so, are a good idea. As the Iran hawks say, these efforts may well fail. If they fail, we'll have to live with that — deterrence, etc. — which will be inconvenient, but a lot less inconvenient than the consequence of airstrikes that are almost certain to not resolve the underlying issue anyway. Can the Democrats package that into a defensible political position? I'm not going to claim it would be easy, but people get paid big bucks to try and figure that out and I would urge them to try their best.

Matthew Yglesias is a Prospect staff writer.
By Matthew Yglesias
Reprinted with permission from The American Prospect, 5 Broad Street, Boston, MA 02109. All rights reserved

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