Foreign policy heavyweights warn of it. European allies scramble to avert it. Economists say the United States can’t afford it. Common sense seems to dictate against it. And yet, the Bush administration is heading for it – confrontation with Tehran.
Few dispute the need to keep an eye on Iran. Its apparent pursuit of nuclear weapons is a proliferation threat and a threat to regional stability. The Islamic Republic at least tacitly supports extremist groups in the Mideast. And as promoters of democracy, U.S. policymakers are concerned about free-thinking Iranians under the repressive thumb of the clerics.
. Iran is well-armed and large -- with area and population several times that of neighboring Iraq. Bush, like other policymakers is burdened with the emotional baggage of 1979 Islamic Revolution and the hostage crisis, when student militants occupied the U.S. embassy in Tehran.
That said, there's no sign of subtle diplomacy toward Iran and plenty of reasons to expect more Bush administration damn-the-torpedoes unilateralism.
After President Bush labeled Iran in 2002 part of an “axis of evil” with Iraq and North Korea, the administration never really articulated an Iran policy. The war next door was too distracting and administration officials too divided.
But as the administration moves to wind down Iraq involvement after January elections, Iran’s time has come. And as neoconservative Condi Rice takes over the State Department, a plan focused on regime change in Tehran may well emerge -- even if Europe continues to talk with Tehran about carrots and sticks to bring Iran into line on the nuclear issue.
Against this darkening backdrop, U.S. or U.S.-backed Israeli strikes against alleged nuclear facilities may not be inevitable, but the possibility is real. The U.S. military is poised in Iraq and Afghanistan, along Iran's borders. And the administration has amply demonstrated it doesn't require international approval for military action.
A hard-line approach may merely fuel Iranian nationalism, fortify conservative mullahs against reformers and prompt further pursuit of nuclear weapons. The risk of inaction is greater, the administration will retort.
With hard-liners holding sway in both capitals, there's no thaw in sight.