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Define “Unacceptable”

Four distinguished former officials declare in the Wall Street Journal today that a “nuclear Iran is unacceptable,” and argue for a bipartisan approach to the challenge ahead. “Everyone needs to worry about Iran,” they say: this is not a problem that will go away when the Bush administration leaves office; not one only Americans, Israelis, and hawks should worry about. Former UN ambassador Richard Holbrooke, former CIA chief Jim Woolsey, former peace envoy Dennis Ross, and former UN representative for management and reform Mark Wallace–representing different worldviews, supporting different presidential candidates–are in agreement:

We believe that Iran’s desire for nuclear weapons is one of the most urgent issues facing America today, because even the most conservative estimates tell us that they could have nuclear weapons soon.

A nuclear-armed Iran would likely destabilize an already dangerous region that includes Israel, Turkey, Iraq, Afghanistan, India and Pakistan, and pose a direct threat to America’s national security. For this reason, Iran’s nuclear ambitions demand a response that will compel Iran’s leaders to change their behavior and come to understand that they have more to lose than to gain by going nuclear.

Since many leaders in many countries agree, in principle, that a nuclear Iran is not a desirable situation, the assertions this article makes are far from controversial. So do the four signatories not just agree what the preferable outcome should be, but also on the means to be used, and on the risks and cost America will be willing to pay as to stop Iran from achieving its stated goal? And what does “unacceptable” mean in practice?

Naturally, and understandably, and reasonably, what the authors call for is a more robust effort to convince Iran that its current course should be changed:

We do not aim to beat the drums of war. On the contrary, we hope to lay the groundwork for effective U.S. policies in coordination with our allies, the U.N. and others by a strong showing of unified support from the American people to alter the Iranian regime’s current course.

If they can really do this, and “lay the groundwork” for policies that will help the international community stop Iran, I (and everybody else) will applaud. But the one most important word in this article is “effective.” We need not a policy aimed at stopping Iran, but one that will actually stop Iran.

And as for bipartisanship: its real test will come if (or, more likely, when)  policies like the above fail to provide for a peaceful solution to this crisis. Whether all four signatories can find the needed common ground under those circumstances remains to be seen.


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