Victor Davis Hanson

The United States also must stabilize Iraq and Afghanistan. The last thing Iran wants is a democratic and prosperous Middle East surrounding its borders. The televised sight of Afghans, Iraqis, Kurds, Lebanese and Turks voting and speaking freely could galvanize Iranian popular opinion that in time might overwhelm the mullahs.

At the same time, we need to remind the Gulf monarchies that a nuclear Shiite theocracy is far more dangerous to them than either the United States or Israel — and that America's efforts to contain Iran depend on their own to rein in Wahhabis in Iraq.

We should say nothing much about the presence of two or three U.S. carrier groups in the Persian Gulf and Mediterranean. Iran will soon grasp on its own that the build-up of such forces might presage air strikes that the United States excels in — and not more ground fighting that the American public apparently won't any longer stomach.

We must continue to make clear that Israel is a sovereign nation with a perfect right to protect itself. Sixty years after the Holocaust, no Israeli prime minister will sit still idly while seventh-century theocrats grandstand about wiping out Israel.

Let's also keep our distance and moderate our rhetoric. There's no reason to frighten average Iranians — who may share our antipathy to their country's regime — or to make therapeutic pleas to talk with those leaders in bunkers whom we know are our enemies.

Finally, and most importantly, Americans must conserve energy, gasify coal, diversify fuels, drill more petroleum and invent new energy sources. Only that can collapse the world price of petroleum.

When oil is priced at $60 a barrel, Ahmadinejad is a charismatic Third World benefactor who throws cash to every thug who wants a roadside bomb or shouldered-fired missile — and has plenty of money to buy Pakistani, North Korean or Russian nuclear components. But when oil is $30 a barrel, Ahmadinejad will be despised by his own masses, who will become enraged as state-subsidized food and gas skyrocket, and scarce Iranian petrodollars are wasted on Hezbollah and Hamas.

None of these taps alone will fracture Iran and stop it from going nuclear. But all of them together might well crack Ahmadinejad's thin shell before he gets the bomb.

So let's start tapping.

Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal.