The 2006 National Security Strategy states that America "may face no greater challenge from a single country than from Iran." Again, the dislike of a noisily belligerent and obscurantist regime that may be seeking nuclear arms is understandable. Yet to an objective observer America seems wonderfully blessed, if indeed it is true that Iran represents its greatest challenge. No doubt, one result of the American invasion of Iraq has been to greatly expand Iran's influence there, a "challenge" made possible by America's own policy. But the Islamic Republic is, after all, halfway around the globe from America's shores. Its population is a quarter of America's, its GNP one hundredth the size, and it is, at present, surrounded by better-equipped American and allied armed forces.
Compared, say, to the threat of atomic obliteration posed by the Soviet Union between 1949 and 1989, the possibility of an Iranian attack on the United States does not seem very large. Even a nuclear-armed Iran would never dare strike the superpower because it would risk annihilation in response. Obviously America poses a far greater threat to Iran than Iran does to the United States. And perversely, it is this threat, more than anything else right now, that bolsters Iran's oppressive and unpopular government.
The failure to acknowledge this basic reality (as opposed to say lumping Iran in with "forces of evil" or "Islamofascists" determined to establish an Islamic caliphate in America) automatically disqualifies one from any discussion on the proper means by which we should deal with Iran (that this standard eliminates two-thirds of conservative punditry and about nine-tenths of the conservative blogosphere does not trouble me.) Dealing with Iran requires serious, considered thought, not over-blown rhetoric on the dangers of Islam or gross over-simplification of their motives. Our reaction to Iran must be measured in proportion to the threat Iran poses to our national and regional interests. This must never be forgotten, for it is one dictate that serves to render our foreign policy choices not only sensible, but moral.