Victor Davis Hanson

When -- not if -- is the only mystery about an Iranian nuclear bomb.

All the warning signs are there.

'Game changers'

In 2008, presidential candidate Barack Obama on two occasions went out of his way to warn the Iranians that the development of a nuclear weapon "would be a game-changing situation, not just in the Middle East, but around the world." Obama later added, "It is unacceptable for Iran to possess a nuclear weapon; it would be a game changer."

Strong language. And Obama twice this year again used "game changer" in reference to Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, warning him not to dare use chemical weapons. In March, Obama announced to Assad that "the use of chemical weapons is a game changer." A month later, Obama again warned Assad not to resort to WMD use: "That is going to be a game changer."

The Iranians must conclude that Obama's oft-used sports metaphor is more a verbal tic than a serious red line. What should they fear next from Obama -- a really, really big game changer? Do we really expect them to show us either that they have lied in the past about their WMD aims but have now renounced them, or that they have been misunderstood and will prove to the world that they never have sought a bomb in the first place?

The Phantom Moderate

Not long ago, Assad was hailed by the American foreign policy establishment as a "reformer." Sen. John Kerry was widely praised for his visits to Damascus. Kerry's inspired engagement supposedly stood in stark contrast to the Bush administration's mindless ostracism of the misunderstood dictator, who was sending terrorists into Iraq, planning the assassination of a prominent politician in Lebanon, aiding Hezbollah and exploring all sorts of WMD avenues.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gleefully contrasted Assad the "reformer" with the late Muammar Gadhafi, the murderous dictator, when she explained why the Obama administration was going to bomb the latter but not the former, which had only committed "police actions."

When the murderous Assad appears on Western media, he certainly does not sound like his late uncouth father. Instead, in smart Western suits, he speaks softly in French-accented English. His chic wife Asma was fawned over in a 2011 Vogue magazine puff piece, "A Rose in the Desert."

The latest Middle East "moderate" and "reformer," Hassan Rouhani, the new president of Iran, follows Syria's script. As in the case of Assad, he appears a pleasant change from his immediate predecessor, the coarse Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.


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.