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Iran Policy: Foolhardy and Dangerous

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"Are we going to attack Iran?"

The question comes up frequently whenever I appear before a group these days, to talk about current events, or my book, Against The Tide. Concern about the Bush/Cheney people launching a third war in the Greater Middle East can only be heightened now that the International Atomic Energy Agency has said Iran's nuclear program may be aimed less at energy generation and more at military use.

If we were Iranians, would we be paranoid, too, about protecting ourselves and our vast resources in an oil-thirsty world?

Eight years ago, nuclear nonproliferation worked. Today we've done much to encourage a flat-out arms race among countries that feel they need nuclear weapons to defend their borders. A wiser White House and Congress would have put out this message instead: We're no longer constrained by the Cold War with the former Soviet Union, but we still respect every country's sovereign right to govern its own territory and resources.

I open my newspaper every morning wondering if this is the day the Bush/Cheney administration does something as foolhardy and dangerous as launching a military strike against Iran, or instigating one. Never mind that the Iranians control the Straits of Hormuz, and that once we go to war against Persians as well as Arabs, there is no predicting the consequences.

Does Islamabad finally erupt, putting radical extremists in command of nuclear weapons?

Isn't that what we say we want to prevent in Iran?

If Bush and Cheney spark a wider war, incredibly it will be a Democratic-controlled Congress that paved the way for such reckless behavior overseas, just as it did in October of 2002, when Tom Daschle was majority leader.

Last September, the Senate asked the White House to declare the Iranian armed forces a "terrorist" organization. The vote was 76 to 22, much like the 77-to-23 vote that authorized the war in Iraq.

Senator Clinton, of course, voted to put the terrorist label on Iran. (Eight months ago the New York Times said it was evidence that the inevitable Democratic nominee "has already shifted from primary mode... to general election mode, when she must guard against critics from the right."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid voted with President Bush in October 2002 on toppling Saddam and then again in September 2007 on Iran, despite saying, "We certainly don't want to be led down the path slowly but surely until we wind up with a situation like we have in Iraq today."

Who were the No votes? Many were freshman senators swept into office in 2006. Democrat Jim Webb of Virginia cautioned his more experienced colleagues against laying the groundwork for another war.

"What do we do with terrorist organizations if they are involved against us?" Webb asked. "We attack them."

I was the only Republican in the Senate to vote against invading Iraq, but ironically, it was the anti-war mood of the voters that cost me my seat in 2006. They didn't want Republicans setting the agenda anymore.

My Democratic successor had benefited from that mood, of course, but quickly fell in line with his party leaders and gave President Bush a blank check on Iran.

If the will of the voters has been frustrated, that's bad enough. Does Washington now need to compound it by attacking Iran?

It would be a terrible mistake for politicians of both parties to point to the IAEA report and declare that an international body has confirmed our worst fears and the Persian Gulf is ripe for another military "solution."

It's time for serious people to get to work on finding another way.