I was raised Jewish, but that doesn't mean that I don't know a Christmas wish list when I see one. So when the IAEA issued its rebuke to Iran, I was not surprised to hear a furious leadership act like a child caught with its hand in the cookie jar. True, some kids fold under pressure, but this Iranian regime is the sort on enfant terrible who figures that it has nothing to lose by trying to bluff its way out of the real mess. Instead of retreat, it reels off a wish list of destruction in the hopes of generating an external response -- preferable in the form of a US and Israeli air strike -- that will distract its large, restive population from the real problem -- it's own illegitimacy.
Such an attack would be the best possible Christmas gift for Iran's unholy political trinity: an illegitimate government, a corrupt theocracy and an increasingly assertive military. (Please note that there are a number of brave religious leaders who risk their lives to speak out against the regime.) An outside attack would continue to justify the repression of an unhappy population, distract from the fact that the government has been highly ineffectual and relieve all players of the need to justify their increasingly North Korean style approach to governing. Just as America once rallied around the Apollo program, Ahmadinejad is hoping to rally the country around a nuclear bomb. Hence, we get a lot of talk about 20% enrichment, 10 new sites, 6 months inspection, and a partridge in a pear tree.
So if we want to help the current Iranian regime, we should grant the Revolutionary Guard its wish this Christmas season and attack. If, however, we prefer to do something useful for the people of Iran, we should keep reminding China that a volatile, nuclear armed Iran will create hideous instability in the energy market. For China, that's not a trivial matter, but a direct threat to its domestic growth and the Communist Party's continuing legitimacy. Rather than risk that, the Chinese seem good and ready to get very serious about sanctions. And when you add China to Japan, Europe and US, sanctions start to become a real problem for the Iranian regime. Such unified, economic action would increase domestic problems. That will force Ahmadinejad and crew either to begin making concessions or further tighten the repression. Either will bring the regime closer to its demise.
If you're running in next year's mid-term elections and you want to prove your tough on Iran, campaign on the fact that the check book is sometimes mightier than the missile. The photo ops won't be quite as good, but you'll be acting in the best interests of your would-be constituents and helping the people of Iran in the process.