It seems to me that how the next president tackles Iran should now be a bigger issue even than how he (or potentially, God save us all, she) manages Iraq. Two new stories bring that home: Gary Milhollin's op-ed in the NYT today that details Iran's presumed inexorable progress toward a nuclear capacity and Robert Baer's chillingly persuasive piece in the Daily News. Personally, I see no way that we are now going to be able to stop Iran's nuclear military capacity. The question now is how we manage it: deterrence or pe-emptive war?

Baer argues:

I myself think a deal can be cut with Iran. During the last 30 years, Iran has gone from a terrorist, revolutionary power to far more rational, calculating regional hegemon. Its belligerence today has more to do with a weakened United States and Israel than with any plans to start World War III.

The question is what price Iran would exact for a settlement. Or more to the point: Would we prefer to take our chances with an Israeli surprise?

I'm increasingly of the view that the United States should think twice before giving Israel a green light to destroy Iran's nascent nuclear capacity.

Such an act in today's context would immediately pour gasoline on the Islamist fire, uniting Shia and Sunni in anti-Israel and anti-Semitic and anti-Western fervor. It would recruit a generation of Islamist terrorists. It would risk a new and empowered alliance between Iran and Russia which has the nuclear know-how to give to Iran if it wants to. It might precipitate an Islamist take-over in Pakistan, which would give us an Islamist nuclear state overnight.

This is not to say that a nuclear Iran is not a horrifying prospect. But I don't believe that Iran's leadership truly wants to annihilate its entire population in a stand-off with the Zionists. Nuking Jerusalem is not something devout Islamists would easily countenance. But using the nuclear leverage to empower Hezbollah and Hamas is certainly a likely gambit. Finding a way to help defend Israel conventionally, using the brink of disaster to try to leverage a saner leadership in Tehran, and trying to pacify Iraq and Pakistan in the middle: this is the awful task that awaits the next president. To my mind, the job needs delicacy, calm, authority and patience. Above all: steadiness. The choice seems obvious to me.

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