The U.S. occupation of Iraq has been a deliverance for the mullahs ruling Iran. They founded their claim to legitimacy on their resistance to a U.S.-backed dictator; they came to power in 1979 behind student demonstrators shouting "Death to the U.S.!," and "Death to the Shah!"; they invoke the Great Satan to distract the Iranian people from their repression. Bush's threat last week renews the regime's nationalist bona fides. If he bombs the Iranian nuclear reactors, the mullahs will be in power for generations.
Will Bush do it? He does not have to face the voters again; that political check is gone. His supine party controls the Congress; that institutional check is gone. War cemented Bush's presidency. Before September 11 he was the least legitimate president since "Rutherfraud" B. Hayes, installed in the White House by the vote of a Republican Supreme Court justice, Joseph P. Bradley, who was the Clarence Thomas of 1877. As the Downing Street memo indicates, the climate of fear generated by the looming war with Iraq helped the GOP recapture the Senate in 2002, as Karl Rove calculated. The war in Iraq, which the administration spun as the main battlefield in the "war on terror," re-elected Bush in 2004. Iraq has since become a political wound for Bush and a liability for his party. Cutting and running look to be in the cards there. To cover his retreat from an Iraq collapsing into civil war, Bush will need to look strong. Republicans need fear to prevail in next year's elections— to mask the debacle of Iraq.
What can stop Bush from playing the war card one last time? The Democrats can't—won't—stop him. Civil disobedience won't. The GOP's corporate base might. An attack on Iran, by driving up the price of oil to historic highs, could trigger a recession. No industry would be unaffected, but energy-intensive industries would suffer disproportionately. The airline industry might implode. Business leaders have an interest in peace with Iran. They need to act on it.
Tony Blair could stop Bush. His support for war against Iraq made war inevitable. His refusal to support a U.S. attack on Iran, I believe, would have a decisive effect on American opinion and arouse the world against Bush. Nothing could restore Blair's standing with his people—and history—as surely as saying no to Bush. Nothing could so increase Britain's prestige in the world. No other act could yield more long-term security for the British people. By showing all Islam that Britain wanted no part of a U.S.-led war of civilizations, Blair would have done all words can do to prevent terrorism in Britain.
Redeeming one disaster with another is a formula for an infinite regress of disasters. Bush's policies have left Iran with no choice but to possess the bomb. It is too late to change those policies. It is probably too late to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power—if that is what it means to do. But if the costs of war to forestall that development are too high, the risks of a nuclear-armed Iran are no less high. It is too late for good choices. Iran, unlike Iraq, has sponsored terrorism and has ties to terrorist groups. That nexus carries grave dangers for Israel. The Israelis may feel they have no choice but to attack Iran's nuclear facilities if the U.S. won't. That course would put U.S. security at risk.