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Madam (Vice) President

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The Republican candidate for Vice President of the United States has, in answering questions about Iran and its nuclear program in the past, emphatically said that we "shouldn't second-guess Israel's security efforts against Iran," which one supposes is in line with John McCain's response in his first debate with Barack Obama that Iran is "an existential threat to Israel." Together, "existential threat" and "shouldn't second-guess" should make for happy politicians in Jerusalem and worried Mullahs in Tehran, for if McCain is elected president, it seems as though Israel may have a much freer hand in doing as it pleases in terms of confronting Iran, even militarily. Sarah Palin, who is vying to be a heartbeat away from the presidency, a presidency with a seventy-two year old heart, that is, would do well to understand that the United States actually should second-guess its allies, particularly if that ally intends to commence military action against another state with airplanes, armaments, and bombs made in America, and paid for by American taxpayers.

In the Vice-Presidential debate on Thursday night, Sarah Palin repeated the now standard Republican line that Iran's President Ahmadinejad is "insane", "unstable", and is intent not only getting his hands on a nuclear bomb, but actually to deploy it against Israel. (Senator Joseph Biden corrected her by indicating that it is not Ahmadinejad who is in charge of "Iran's security apparatus.") But Ms. Palin's well-rehearsed statements about Iran and its fiery president (rehearsed to the point of repeatedly and incorrectly pronouncing Ahmadinejad's name exactly as Senator McCain does, with a "k" that no one else seems to have spotted in the spelling) betrayed a real and fundamental lack of knowledge about Iran, or "Eye-ran" as she mispronounces it, and the larger issue of what the future of U.S.-Iranian relations might, or should, look like. (Pakistan, the other country named in Gwen Ifill's question on dangerous countries, might expect a free pass from Ms. Palin should she be in any position to affect U.S. policy toward it, for the Pakistani president's practically lecherous greeting to her in New York, "you're gorgeous!" seems to have elicited only the giggle of a teenage prom queen from the admittedly handsome Governor of Alaska. Senator Biden's patient explanation of the facts that Pakistan is already in possession of deliverable nuclear weapons, and Iran lacks both weapons and the means to deploy them, appeared to have had little affect on Palin, who simply continued to smile, trying to remember the next line she had memorized, or the next evil-doer such as Kim Jong Il, whose name rolled off her tongue rather more easily than Ahmadinejad's.)

Sarah Palin's views on Iran, though, also actually diverged somewhat from the Bush administration's, Senator McCain's, and even the rest of the world: she suggested that Iran mustn't even be allowed nuclear energy. A misstatement in her zeal to bolster her anti-Iran credentials, or her actual view? So could this potentially be the conversation on day one in the White House:

"Umm, excuse me Madam President, I mean Vice-President, Iran is a member of the IAEA and a signatory to the NPT, as are we. That guarantees their right to nuclear energy."

"Well, gosh darn it, let me get right back to you on that, then!"

But in all seriousness, if it is her view (and her running mate supports that view) then we are in serious trouble, for the Bushehr nuclear power plant in southern Iran that is nearing completion (by Russian engineers) is toast, courtesy of either the U.S. Air Force or Israel's. And the Iranians who matter, not just Ahmadinejad, and perhaps more ominously the Russians, are not going to like that. What Sarah Palin needs to understand, which I'm afraid she doesn't (as opposed to McCain, who probably does but pretends he doesn't) is that Ahmadinejad is not Iran's dictator, has no ability to start a big war or even launch a minor attack on another country (the Supreme Leader of Iran controls not only the "security apparatus" of Iran but also its foreign policy), and is up for re-election on June 12th, 2009, less than six months after the new U.S. president takes office. (Yes, Governor, Iran has elections.) Even the most pessimistic of experts and observers would agree that Iran is incapable, assuming it wanted to, of developing a nuclear weapon before that time. And if Ahmadinejad is re-elected president, perhaps a word or two with the Ayatollahs in charge might reassure the next American president that the "unstable" president of Iran will never have his finger on the button, a button that if they build, he probably will not even know about. Right, I forgot: as Senator McCain put it to Senator Obama, it is naïve to talk to the Iranians. Can you pronounce naïve, Ms. Palin?