Cliff May

Washington's partisan divide is as wide as it's ever been. Democrats and Republicans bitterly disagree on fundamental points of principle and policy. So it should not go unremarked: Last week, the Senate passed - unanimously - a bill that would impose serious sanctions on Iran. A similar bill already has passed the House by a 412 to 12 margin. What explains this sudden outburst of harmony?

Members of Congress from both parties appear to have recognized that if those who now rule Iran acquire nuclear weapons the consequences will be dire.

Iran's 1979 revolution began with the overthrow of the Shah, but it is meant to end with the overthrow of "infidel" dominance everywhere. Hardliners envision Iran as an oil-powered, nuclear-armed, terrorist-sponsoring colossus, straddling the Middle East while waging a global insurgency. "The Iranian nation has overcome the superpowers and is standing on the victor's podium," Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said. The West, he added, will "bow down to the greatness of the Iranian nation. ...A world without America and Zionism...surely can be achieved."

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Within Iran's ruling elite, there are also those who might be viewed as religious extremists. They believe war is necessary to bring about an apocalypse. Only when millions of people - Iranians among them -- are screaming in agony will the Mahdi return to save the world. "We do not worship Iran, we worship Allah," the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, father of the Islamic Republic said in 1980. "For patriotism is another name for paganism. I say let this land [Iran] burn. I say let this land go up in smoke, provided Islam emerges triumphant in the rest of the world."

There may be moderates within the regime, too, but after the blatantly fraudulent election of June 12, 2009, their sympathies would have to be with the anti-regime dissidents, not the ruling mullahs and their SS-like partner, the Revolutionary Guards. No moderate could condone the regime's brutal response to those demonstrating against dictatorship: the murders, the hangings, the imprisonments, the rapes and the torture.

Is it possible to prevent Iran's theocrats and thugs from getting nukes - without the use of military force? We don't know because no one has made much of an effort. President Bush, preoccupied with Iraq and under chronic attack for "unilateralism," outsourced this task to our European allies who spent years talking with Iranian diplomats and making no progress whatsoever.

Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.