WASHINGTON -- Delicately dealing simultaneously with Iran and Iraq, U.S. policy regarding the former is preposterous yet useful, and U.S. policy regarding the latter is lucid but delusional. Regarding Iran, the faded and tattered flag of arms control is being unfurled for yet another pious salute, the predictable result of which will be redundant confirmation of the axiom that arms control is impossible until it is unimportant. Regarding Iraq, the hope is that the democratic transformation that took centuries in much more promising social settings can succeed in Iraq, given another week.
There has never been any reason for expecting the ``international community,'' that frequently invoked and rarely useful fiction, to dissuade Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Today's Iran is culturally ancient and demographically young -- a combustible compound. It nurses nostalgia about vanished Persian grandeur, and has a potentially turbulent population, the median age of which is just 24.2 (compared to 36.3, 38.9 and 42.2 in America, France and Germany respectively). Even Iranians of temperate and democratic inclinations, and especially the young, seeing four nuclear powers in the neighborhood -- Russia, Israel, Pakistan and India -- and a fifth, America, next door in Iraq and riding nearby waves, might think of nuclear weapons as validations of modernity and conferrers of political weight. If regime change someday puts people of civilized inclinations in power in Tehran, arms control will be possible, if unimportant.