The Gathering Storm


Iran is ramping up centrifuge production. Many new estimates of when Iran might have the potential for nuclear weaponry are beginning to come out - and all of them suggest a sharp decrease in the amount of time we have to prevent a nuclear theocracy in Tehran. This might help explain the recent British sailor hostage-taking. It may have been a device to further split Britain from the US, and to weaken the alliance that's attempting to tighten sanctions on Iran. What the mullahs see, I think, is the inherent brittle weakness and deep strategic incompetence of the Bush-Cheney administration. If you think of Bush as another Carter with respect to the collapse of US soft and hard power under his presidency, then you can see the Iranians forcing an end-of-administration crisis for him, just as they did for Carter. Any Cheney-led military attack on Iran in response would result in massive bloodletting in Iraq, with Shiite and Sunni militias unleashing rage on the US forces, without even an assurance of much delay in nuclear potential for Iran (and a possible Islamist revolt in Pakistan that could easily topple Musharraf). And with 170,000 troops in Iraq, and more and more of them in smaller, more exposed urban outposts, the US will be at its most vulnerable at the very time Tehran may be engaging in nuclear brinkmanship.

Stanley Kurtz is absolutely right that the conditions in Iran are far more worrying by any measure than those the neocons feared existed in Iraq before the invasion. The stakes are also much higher now that we have so incompetently started a war we cannot win in any realistic time-frame. What to do then? By fall, the Congress will have the first and last chance to make the critical decision the country is now fighting with the White House over: to pull out of most of Iraq or to double-down for another decade of Muslim civil war policed by Americans. At the same time, we may have to decide whether to acquiesce in a nuclear-armed Iran. We can and must make every effort between now and then to build, cajole and support the U.N.-based coalition against a nuclear Iran. And since Bush will not relent in Iraq, we must pray that the surge manages to work some kind of miracle.

And as these dual crisis in Iraq and Iran come to a head, we will be facing a general election. The most important hope, as far as I'm concerned, is that the heart of the crisis does not occur under the current president and vice-president. We know they can be relied on to damage our security and also have the capacity for spectacular error and recklessness. Tehran knows this as well, which is why I suspect they're rushing their nuclear plans to be ready before Bush leaves office. It's going to be a nail-biting two years. And the president who inherits the Bush legacy in the Middle East will be less like Reagan inheriting Carter, than Churchill inheriting Chamberlain - with all the troops still stuck in Dunkirk.

(Photo: Technicians prepare to wash the reactor of the Bushehr nuclear power plant at the Iranian port town of Bushehr, 1200 Kms south of Tehran, 03 April 2007. By Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty.)