In considering the problem of Iran, rational observers quickly come upon what seems to be an insuperable dilemma.
Despite increasingly unconvincing denials, Iran seems determined to proceed with the construction of nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them far and wide in the Middle East and western Europe. In a way, its decision is understandable. Almost all of the major powers have them. So do India and Pakistan, Iran's near neighbors in southern Asia. So does Israel, with whom Iran exists in a state of sworn enmity. On what basis can Iran's claim to equal status fairly be denied?
Only (if at all) on the basis of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, which insists that nuclear weapons simply cannot be allowed to proliferate unchecked for the safety of the entire world. If further proliferation is not forbidden, nuclear weapons will soon be in the hands of medium-sized powers all over the globe, very definitely including the Middle East. Within a decade or so, it is entirely possible that a nuclear weapon might be detonated in Washington, with immense cost in human lives, without the United States knowing which rogue power was responsible and hence not even being able to retaliate.
The only conceivable way to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons would be for the United States to conduct a series of devastating air strikes on the key production centers. There are all sorts of objections to this idea, ranging from the alleged impossibility of wiping out, or at least substantially damaging, the production facilities, to the indisputably harmful effects of such a bombardment on America's reputation in the Middle East and in the world at large -- let alone the backlash Iran might be able to unleash among its fellow Shiite Muslims in Iraq, on whom our success there so heavily depends. (For a tidy summary of all the evil consequences, read James Fallows' article in May's Atlantic.)
We are, therefore, damned if we do, and also damned if we don't. There seems no escape from truly awful consequences, whatever we do.
However, with luck, there may be a solution. I have no secret information on how far along the Iranians may be, in the long and highly technical process of building nuclear weapons. According to a lot of professional pessimists, whom seem to derive actual pleasure from making problems seem insoluble, it's just a matter of months -- after which it will supposedly be too late to stop the process. But in a highly persuasive article in the May issue of Commentary, Edward N. Luttwak, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, argues that Iran "is still years away from producing a bomb."
William Rusher is a Distinguished Fellow of the Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy and author of How to Win Arguments .
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