Today, I was at the state Democratic convention and I had a good conversation with a friend of mine about Iran.
Of course, Iran has become much more bellicose over the past few months, going from denying it had any nuclear ambitions to admitting that it has produced centrifuges and other critical equipment, and in fact has made multiple copies of this equipment and dispersed it around the country.
Why the new belligerency?
Well, for one thing, it is clear that belligerency works, especially with the Bush administration. While Iraq's Saddam Hussein eventually knuckled under to the demands to let the inspectors back into Iraq (and still became the victim of 'regime change'), North Korea kept ratcheting up the level of confrontation with Washington and has been rewarded by American retreat, first by Washington stopping spy planes from flying over or near North Korea in the days leading up to the Iraq war, and then by Washington announcing that over the coming years it plans to reduce the American troop levels in South Korea. North Korea is still belligerent, and clearly is safe from an American invasion. The lesson has not been lost on Iran.
The second reason is even more to be laid at the feet of the Bush administration. Had Iran been this bold about developing nuclear weapons two or three years ago, then they would have been in for a regime change. And, in fact, it is clear from the fact that America is building over a dozen bases in Iraq (an inordinately high number for such a small country) that we had eventual plans to use Iraq as a staging ground for an invasion of another country (clearly Iran, although Syria may have been in the picture as well). However, we are now stuck in a mess in Iraq, and the best outcome we can hope for in Iraq is that Iraqis rally around the new constitution, which would create what amounts to an Islamic Republic not all that different from Iran, and in which Iran will hold more influence than we will. Not much of a base. What is more, though, is that the army we would have had to threaten Iran with if they did not comply (or even invade if we really had to consider them a nuclear threat) is 1) bogged down in the quicksand of Iraq, 2) badly overextended and not meeting its recruiting goals, and therefore 3) not capable of mounting an invasion of another country, especially one three times as large as Iraq and which has not been weakened by a decade of sanctions and 'no-fly zones.'
Conservatives will claim that the opposition to the Iraq war by liberals has emboldened Iran. That is ridiculous, especially seeing how much difference that made when liberals were shunted aside by the Bush administration's hell-bent determination to invade Iraq. What has emboldened Iran is our failure in Iraq, pure and simple. They know we could bomb the crap out of them, but that is all, and they apparently have made a calculated decision that they could survive such a bombing campaign, and surviving it, will be able to stand up against Washington.
That is what we get for having elected a President who squandered our now amazingly finite looking military. The good news is that if Iran develops a nuke, we do have an alternate strategy: to not go to war with Iran because we can learn the lesson of history that it wouldn't be the end of the world.