No president will go on TV and tell Americans that we are going to invade Iran, overthrow its government, and rebuild it as a participatory democracy. No president will tell the American people that we are going to invade Iran because they are about to build a nuclear weapon. If things had turned out differently in Iraq perhaps, but as it is, I am afraid that is politically impossible. We are not going to draft a million young Americans and send them to Iran. Anyone who thinks we are should seek medical attention.
Likewise with Israel. The Israelis may bomb Iran (I doubt it but they may) but they do not have the capacity for regime change. They know this. The best they can hope for is to strike the Natanz enrichment plant and delay the inevitable.
What about the countries after Iran? Venezuela? Malaysia? Sudan? Do we plan to invade each and every undemocratic country that can enrich uranium? Will Americans spend trillions of dollars and draft millions of people over the next generation just to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons? I don’t know where you guys live or who your neighbors and coworkers are but in my city and among my neighbors and coworkers this is simply unthinkable. That my neighbor’s 10 year-old son would be drafted in 2014 and sent to war to stop Bangladesh from building the Bomb would be considered plain crazy-talk.
Americans are not strategic thinkers. They will fight to defend their country but not to preserve an international security framework of non-proliferation. That's just too abstract an argument to motivate most people. If Iran attacks us the vast majority of Americans will do whatever they can to defeat the attackers. But to attack a country of 70 million ten thousand miles away to prevent them from acquiring weapons that they might use to attack us years from now is asking too much of most people.
One day, maybe next summer or in two years, you will wake up on a normal Tuesday morning. You’ll take a hot shower and dress for work. You’ll let the dog out. You’ll make a nice cup of coffee; maybe have a cup of yogurt or a banana. You’ll turn on the TV to check the weather and traffic and the headline will slap you. You may have expected it in the back of your mind but, like the UK tube bombings, the details and timing will surprise you. “Iran Tests Nuclear Device.” Cut to the grainy video: somewhere out in the Persian wasteland, a still image of a brown landscape. And then, whumpf! Static cracks across the screen. The landscape rises, swelling from some sinister internal pressure, before settling back onto itself. All is quiet and still, as if nothing had happened.
Surprisingly the world will not have changed. You will still let the dog in, kiss your spouse and drive to work. A few people will be talking about it. But most will only be dimly aware of what happened and happily ignorant of what it means. They will be more interested in the latest sports scores or rumors of the Brad Pitt – Angelina Jolie breakup.
And the new age, which began tentatively in 1998, will be fully upon us: the Age of Proliferation.