If Iran goes nuclear…

A story today in the Christian Science Monitor implies that Bush is taking a softer approach to Iran. I’m not sure that’s believeable, but here it is:

Yet Mr. Bush’s recent rhetoric on the topic has been nuanced – gone is the word “intolerable.” The shift may suggest two things: first, a realization that diplomatic options are limited, and second, a realization that Iran has tremendous means of influencing events in Iraq.

The chances for a nuclear arms race in the Middle East grow enormously if Iran gets the bomb.

An “overtly” nuclear Iran could result in a “large nuclear crowd in the Middle East,” Mr. Sokolski says: Israel would go public with the nuclear armament it has been mum about, which in turn would put tremendous pressure on Egypt to stand shoulder to shoulder in the nuclear club. Syria, Algeria, Saudi Arabia – which would feel threatened by Iran’s new status – would also feel pressed to ratchet up what are assumed to be varying existing programs.

Though it’s likely to be a few years yet before Iran could finish a working bomb, that’s a short time frame for any chance of finding a peaceful resolution. Though Iran recently agreed to temporarily halt its uranium enrichment program, that agreement is fairly unstable and may not last.

In any event, the Bush administration remains deeply skeptical of the prospects for the European plan to derail Iran’s nuclear ambitions. One reason is that over recent years Iran’s nuclear program has become tightly bound with national pride, thus making it all the more difficult for a regime – particularly one whose popularity is already on the wane – to give it up.

Personally I think there’s a more immediate threat in Pakistan, which already has a bomb and has close ties with allies of Al Queada, if not with Al Quaeda itself. I’d like to find some good reporting on how strong Musharraf is and how likely his government is to fail. If I can find some, I’ll bring it back here. In the meantime, Iran is going to be a hot spot for some time to come, even if we don’t invade.

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