In the Arena


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James Taranto points out –accurately–that Democratic poiticians are having some difficulty figuring out what to do about Iran. Several readers have asked where I stand on the issue. Let me make a few points:

–We should do more than merely talk with Iran. We should recognize Iran. As I argued several years ago, the U.S. policy of non-recognition, a vestige of the communist era, is fairly unique in diplomatic history and entirely counterproductive. Recognizing Iran would have the additional advantage of driving the mullahs crazy.

–The U.S. military and intelligence services have every right to detain or attack Iranian agents who provide arms and expertise to the Shi’ite militias in Iraq–but only in Iraq. This is a war. They’re killing our troops. (And yes, it’s time to redeploy our troops out of the cities and eventually out of the country…but while they’re there, the troops have the right to defend themselves and the innocent Iraqis being killed by Iranian ordnance.)

–We should prepare ourselves for the reality that Iran will have a nuclear weapon sooner or later. It is the firm desire of the vast majority of Iranians, even those who hate the mullahs, to have one.

–The Bush Administration lacks the moral standing to make a unilateral pre-emptive attack (or a bilateral one, with Israel) on Iran…or on any other country for that matter. In fact, here’s a litmus test for 2008: Any candidate who wants to be credible on national security and foreign policy has to promise that the days of unilateral, pre-emptive wars are over. If you want to go to war with, say, Iran, you have to put together the overwhelming sort of international coalition, including our NATO allies, that Bush the Elder did in the first Gulf War, and then get the approval of the U.S. Congress, via an old-fashioned Declaration of War. There are exceptions, of course: If we’re attacked first, all bets are off (and all options are on the table). In a very few extreme cases, if there’s undeniable evidence of an imminent attack–as opposed to an “imminent threat,” as Bush tried to portray Saddam–pre-emption may also be justified. And U.S. special operations forces or covert operators must continue to have the freedom to move against known terrorists, especially in areas like the Waziristan, where the Pakistani government has given de facto free reign to al Qaeda and the Taliban.

–Finally, the current effort by the Bush Administration to provoke a war with Iran is extremely dangerous and stupid. I am completely opposed to it.