Victor Davis Hanson
The idea of a nuclear Iran -- and of preventing a nuclear Iran -- terrifies security analysts.

Those who argue for a preemptive strike against Iran cannot explain exactly how American planes and missiles would take out all the subterranean nuclear facilities without missing a stashed nuke or two -- or whether they might as well expand their target lists to Iranian military assets in general. None can predict the fallout on world oil prices, global terrorism and the politically fragile Persian Gulf, other than that it would be uniformly bad.

In contrast, those who favor containment of a nuclear Iran do not quite know how the theocracy could be deterred -- or how either Israel or the regional Sunni Arab regimes will react to such a powerful and unpredictable neighbor.

The present crisis with North Korea offers us a glimpse of what, and what not, to expect should Iran get the bomb. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would gain the attention currently being paid to Kim Jong-un -- similarly not otherwise earned by his nation's economy or cultural influence.

We should assume that the Iranian theocracy, like the seven-decade-long Kim dynasty in North Korea, would periodically sound lunatic: threatening its neighbors and promising a firestorm in the region -- if not eventually in the United States and Europe as well.

An oil-rich, conventionally armed Iran has already used that playbook. When it becomes nuclear, those previously stale warnings of ending Israel or attacking U.S. facilities in the Persian Gulf will not be entirely laughed off, just as Kim Jong-un's insane diatribes are not so easily dismissed.

North Korea has taught the world that feigned madness in nuclear poker earns either foreign aid or worldwide attention -- given that even a 99 percent surety of a bluff can still scare Western publics. North Korea is the proverbial nutty failed neighbor who constantly picks on the successful suburbanites next door, on the premise that the neighbors will heed his wild nonsensical threats because he has nothing and they have everything to lose.

Iran could copy Kim's model endlessly -- one week threatening to wipe Israel off the face of the map, the next backing down and complaining that problems in translation distorted the actual, less bellicose communiqué . The point would not necessarily be to actually nuke Israel (which would translate into the end of Persian culture for a century), but to create such an atmosphere of worry and gloom over the Jewish state as to weaken the economy, encourage emigration and erode its geostrategic reputation.


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.