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The Tehran Calculus
· Diplomatic. There will be massive criticism of America from around the world. Much of it is to be discounted. The Muslim street will come out again for a few days, having replenished its supply of flammable American flags, most recently exhausted during the cartoon riots. Their governments will express solidarity with a fellow Muslim state, but this will be entirely hypocritical. The Arabs are terrified about the rise of a nuclear Iran and would privately rejoice in its defanging.
The Europeans will be less hypocritical because their visceral anti-Americanism trumps rational calculation. We will have done them an enormous favor by sparing them the threat of Iranian nukes, but they will vilify us nonetheless.
These are the costs. There is no denying them. However, equally undeniable is the cost of doing nothing.
In the region, Persian Iran will immediately become the hegemonic power in the Arab Middle East. Today it is deterred from overt aggression against its neighbors by the threat of conventional retaliation. Against a nuclear Iran, such deterrence becomes far less credible. As its weak, nonnuclear Persian Gulf neighbors accommodate to it, jihadist Iran will gain control of the most strategic region on the globe.
Then there is the larger danger of permitting nuclear weapons to be acquired by religious fanatics seized with an eschatological belief in the imminent apocalypse and in their own divine duty to hasten the End of Days. The mullahs are infinitely more likely to use these weapons than anyone in the history of the nuclear age. Every city in the civilized world will live under the specter of instant annihilation delivered either by missile or by terrorist. This from a country that has an official Death to America Day and has declared since Ayatollah Khomeini's ascension that Israel must be wiped off the map.
Against millenarian fanaticism glorying in a cult of death, deterrence is a mere wish. Is the West prepared to wager its cities with their millions of inhabitants on that feeble gamble?
These are the questions. These are the calculations. The decision is no more than a year away.