IN THE NEWS
Worried about Iran's nuclear potential? Well, if you're an American citizen, don't worry--the United States is unlikely to play a major role in resolving the situation.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) continues its investigation, stopping just short of referring the issue to the UN Security Council. The IAEA is trying to escalate the pressure on Iran, stopping short at each stage to give the mullahcracy a chance to demonstrate to the rest of the world that its atomic ambitions don't include nuclear weapons.
That begs the question, What's next if the Iranian government doesn't comply? That's not altogether clear. The European Union, led by German and British representatives, have been spearheading the diplomatic offensive against Iran. The United States continues to make ominous grumblings while corraling other countries in the effort to isolate Iran. The mullahs continue to claim, Nothing to see here, move along. Now what?
I think that it's safe to say that, whatever happens, the United States will play a minor role, if any at all. The UN in general, and the IAEA in particular, actively distrusts the United States. The European Union may still think that a shared interest in curbing Iran's nuclear ambitions exists on both sides of the Atlantic, but the EU isn't going to wait for the Euro-bashing, doggedly unilateralist US government to come crashing into any delicate coercive diplomacy directed against Iran. (And who's eager to be invited on Mr. Bush's wild ride a second time around?) The US government would have to antagonize Russia--not something, to date, it has been willing to do--given Russia's cooperation with Iran on nuclear development. The United States doesn't have the resources to fight the war in Iraq at a sufficient level, limiting its options in Iran. (US naval and air assets might play a role, but there is no silver bullet from the air that's going to precisely, fully, and finally end any Iranian nuclear threat.) One of the biggest US assets, how much harm the US can do to a potential adversary, is long gone, as the limits of American military power are painfully on display in Afghanistan and Iraq. The White House and Congress aren't willing to change the current domestic political formula so that more of the United States' potential power could be mobilized.
So, fear not, Americans! We're not likely to be dragged into a conflict with Iran--but for all the wrong reasons. As it turns out, the rest of the world isn't too keen on recruiting our help, even if we were to offer it.
UPDATE: I don't mean to imply that this situation can be ignored. According to one blogger, the EU's current negotiating stance lacks teeth. Of course, normally in this situation, the teeth, claws, and all the other sharp, pointy, scary bits would come primarily from the United States. However, the US isn't in much of a position to offer, and the EU and UN are wary asking for help. IAEA and EU decision-makers are worried about the possibility of a repeat of 2003, in which the US hijacks the international effort to get a miscreant to comply with global non-proliferation guidelines.