While such “Dr. Strangelove” scenarios seem to be more science fiction than realpolitik to us, to the Islamist mindset the prospect of the hedonist rewards of martyrdom is not the stuff of satire. It is real, and the prospect of it coming to pass is no longer theoretical.
What can America do about it? There are no easy answers. A UN resolution on the issue (if indeed such a resolution can be passed) is a must, but anyone waiting for our allies to enact tough sanctions on Tehran and making them stick is kidding themselves.
Relying on Israel to take out Iranian nuclear facilities as it did in Iraq in 1981 is also a nonstarter.
So at some point, whether in the last years of the George W. Bush administration or in the term of its successor, an American president is going to have to face his people with the distasteful proposition of either letting the lunatics go nuclear or to take drastic action that might include military force.
Unless the Iranians have a very unlikely change of heart, the United States – whether led by Republican or a Democrat – will have to swallow hard and act to prevent an event that has the capability of making 9/11 look as insignificant in scale to us as the then-shocking 1915 sinking of the liner Lusitania by a German U-boat does now.
That president’s ability to face up to that challenge will depend on how ready the American public and its leaders have made themselves for the prospect.
If a “failure of imagination” was one of the prime causes of the lack of prevention of 9/11, as was ascertained by the federal commission appointed to probe the issue, then let there be no doubt that a similar inability to imagine the consequences of a nuclear Iran will be far more serious.
So rather than worrying about whether it was George W. Bush or Bill Clinton – along with their respective wise men and flunkies – who are more to blame for 9/11, it would behoove us all to think about the next catastrophe waiting down the road. Now is exactly the time to start imagining it.