08/19/2005 06:34 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Iraq Consequence

While America’s attention is focused on the war in Iraq; the administration and its supporters on ‘winning’ it, the Democrats and anti-war organizations on bringing the troops home, it would be good to remember the single biggest consequence of a misguided, badly mismanaged and unnecessary war: America’s impotence in the face of a newly supremely confident, influential, and soon to be nuclear-powered (if not armed) Iran.

Who would have thought that one day an influential U.S. Senator, Republican no less, would admit that his country is incapable of fighting a new war against an avowed enemy? The world’s only superpower, the world’s richest nation, with every technology and military toy available to it, incapable of striking a blow, let alone a fatal one? That’s exactly what Senator Chuck Hagel suggested today, in an interview with Reuters. Senator Hagel thinks that President Bush’s threat of “all options on the table” with respect to Iran is an empty one, and believes the U.S. should instead enter into a direct dialogue with the new Iranian administration of President Ahmadinejad. Appeasement? No; lack of options.

The Iranians may speak Farsi, but the security services and the staff of the Foreign Ministry understand English quite well. Not that they need to read Chuck Hagel’s assessment to think that the U.S. can’t get involved in another military operation----Iranians have been convinced of that since the insurgency in Iraq raised its head, but the Iranian stance on the nuclear negotiations in the last few weeks has been a direct consequence of that knowledge. Nobody I spoke to in Iran, from left, right or center, from working class to ruling elite, believes that the U.S. has any plans, or even military capability, to stop Iran from developing nuclear power. The only stick that the U.S. wields is an economic one, but with a U.S. embargo since the days of Jimmy Carter and oil over sixty dollars a barrel, the Iranians aren’t particularly worried. What more, ask many Iranians, can America do them economically that it already hasn’t? Iran’s ageing Boeing aircraft fleet won’t get replaced? Boo-hoo. Some time ago Iran ordered a new Airbus jet for its president that the French assured them would be exempt from the U.S. embargo; it’s been since fitted and sitting ready at an airport in France for months, undelivered because of U.S. objections (Airbus uses some U.S. components). Are the Iranians upset? Sure. Are they particularly concerned? Absolutely not. They’ll get a refund and the president of the Islamic Republic will simply continue to fly on an older, noisier, jet. The populist president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, may actually prefer the old 707; he has so far made a point of refusing to use the presidential office in Sa’adabad palace in north Tehran, a sign of his commitment to his “man of the people” image.

The continued war in Iraq is doing more than killing Americans and Iraqis, it’s doing more than providing terrorists a choice theater of operations. It’s robbing the United States of any legitimacy, or any power, in its foreign policy. If the U.S. wakes up one day to a nuclear-armed Iran, one should remember that President Bush’s decision to go to war with a different country (and his refusal to end it) will have been largely responsible.