Iran has been in the news daily because of its nuclear ambitions and the reality that it has now enriched uranium. Enrichment is the first step in the process needed for both nuclear power on a large scale as well as for nuclear weapons production. A lively debate has spread across the blogosphere, and check out my longtime friend, historian and all-around scholar Zenpundit, for some good discussions.
From Zen's post, here are four options that can be considered from the U.S. point of view:
"Unilaterally demonstrate that Iraq was no anomaly and militarily devastate unfriendly states that try to acquire nukes - i.e. impose high potential costs on regimes having clandestine programs.
Build a Core-wide consensus to rewrite the NPT as a treaty with teeth backed by a stringent, updated, version of COCOM.
Bilaterally and multilaterally negotiate with rogue states piecemeal to buy them off for disarming completely( Libya Model).
Revise military nuclear warfighting doctrine and embark upon a weapons-building program that renders nuclear missiles too dangerous to use against the United States, perhaps with an entirely new class of nuclear or high energy weapons."
It seems that options I and IV are the type we would want to avoid at all costs. The world knows that, militarily, we have limited options. Public opinion has decidedly turned against the present war in Iraq, and I cannot imagine that this administration would be able to convince the public or Congress that we should continue to unilaterally try to nation-build, which is what it would turn out to be in Iran (replace the more radical factions that have gained power recently). We also do not have the financial resources at this point, with new record deficits projected into the foreseeable future. And, in addition to domestic realities that would prevent unilateral action, think about the reactions and possible consequences in the Middle East. Another attack on a Muslim state may very well unleash widespread jihad, making the insurgency in Iraq seem minor. I think, at least hope, we have learned a lesson in Iraq, and actually plan for the worst case scenario instead of looking at everything through rose-colored glasses, as we seem to have done on a massive scale in our supposed planning for Iraq.
Option IV not only will place Iran on the defensive and justify their need for weapons (as well as reinvigorate al Qaeda's quest for nuclear weapons), but will likely reduce what little international credibility we have left. We would have to look at the bigger picture, thinking in terms of what Russia may do, or China, or internal pressure that would be felt in Pakistan, as reactions to increased U.S. nuclear proliferation and hypocrisy about telling the rest of the world to not think of developing nuclear weapons, while we go ahead and do our own thing.
The U.S. has been proceeding along with versions of options II and III. We should get directly involved in talks with Iran, which is something they have requested. If necessary, we can hurt them economically and convince the rest of the world that Iran and nukes is a bad combination that the world does not want to see (and the rest of the world is largely at this point already). One thing we should watch for is any hard-line rhetoric from Israel, which could disrupt any negotiations. This is one time I think we need negotiations to work. It is not at all clear how talks will go with the current leaders of Iran. Any pressure that may be placed on Iran from other Mid-East nations would be useful, as well as from Russia. It is a pressure cooker that has just been turned on, and now it is a matter of timing to ensure it does not explode. There are clearly no easy or clear-cut options, and the Iranian regime is one that is most difficult to predict how they will react to carrots and sticks we offer. Iran has had the past three to four years to expand and build their infrastructure since we have largely ignored them due to Iraq, and now we are realizing the consequences (of placing them in the 'axis of evil' and then putting an army right next door...why should we be surprised that radicals have been able to put down moderates and then feel the need for nuclear weapons since they perceive us as a true imminent threat?).