A ten-year-old had awakened his parents in horror, telling them he had been having an ``illegal dream.'' He had been dreaming that he was at the seaside with some men and women who were kissing, and he did not know what to do.
-- Azar Nafisi, ``Reading Lolita in Tehran''
WASHINGTON -- What the young Iranian should have done to please the regime running the Islamic Republic of Iran is obey the prison rules in Vladimir Nabokov's novel ``Invitation to a Beheading'': ``It is desirable that the inmate should not have dreams at all.''
Nafisi, who left Iran in 1997 and now teaches at Johns Hopkins, says, ``What differentiated this revolution from the other totalitarian revolutions of the twentieth century was that it came in the name of the past.'' In the name, that is, of a lost religious purity and rigor.
Iran is not a mere literary dystopia. It is perhaps the biggest problem on the horizon of the next U.S. president because it is moving toward development of nuclear weapons, concerning which the Bush administration has two factions. One favors regime change, the other favors negotiations. There is no plausible path to achieving the former and no reason to expect the latter to be productive.
The regime-changers have their hands full with the unfinished project next door to Iran. Negotiations cannot succeed without one of two things. One is a credible threat of force, which America's Iraq preoccupation makes unlikely. The second, which is also unlikely, is a mix of incentives, positive and negative, that can overcome this fact: Iran's regime is mad as a hatter, but its desire for nuclear weapons is not irrational.
Iran lives in a dangerous neighborhood, near four nuclear powers -- Russia, India, Pakistan and almost certainly Israel -- and the large military presence of another, the infidel United States. Iran has seen how the pursuit of nuclear weapons allows the ramshackle regime of a tin-pot country like North Korea to rivet the world's attention. Iran knows that if Saddam Hussein had acquired such weapons, he would still be in power -- and in Kuwait. And even if the major powers could devise security guarantees sufficient to assuage Iran's geopolitical worries, there remains the regime's religious mania: