The space program provided the generation's seminal statement of imminent doom - from an Apollo 13 having experienced a life-threatening on-board explosion: Houston, we have a problem.
Today, a four-letter problem poses a far more cataclysmic prospect for mankind - extinction. Spell the problem I-r-a-n.
Certainly since 9/11, the United States, the West, the world, has had - or should have - a heightened awareness of a new sort of enemy. This is not outsourcing or abortion or global warming, but a borderless jihadism determined to destroy everything in its way, including its own agents of our destruction.
Iran may prove the ultimate winner of the latest war in Iraq. Iran may be manipulating a Shiite victory there, and certainly it is exploiting Iraq to distract attention from developments within its borders - notably the manufacture of nuclear weapons.
The New York Times, March 26:
"Diplomats from different countries . . . said Iran appeared on the verge of assembling 164 centrifuges, the number needed to form a 'cascade' mechanism that could enrich uranium for nuclear energy or, eventually, bombs. In effect, they said the 164 centrifuges would have the effect of vaulting Iran's capability a major step toward the ability to make weapons, in defiance of demands by Britain, France, Germany and the United States that it cease its uranium activities immediately."
The iffy issue of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (WMD) - whether Saddam had them, whether they constituted a just cause for invasion - may serve to diminish international concern about an Iran on the nuclear road. But there can be little doubt as to Iran's military ambition or intent.
According to Investor's Business Daily, the place now boasts 1,000 small fast-attack boats armed with rockets and missiles for swarming ships. It has its Shahab 3 and 4 ballistic missiles, paraded through Tehran under banners proclaiming, "We will crush America under our feet." It has bought 29 Russian short-range Tor-Mi (SA-15) surface-to-air missile systems, and is negotiating for longer-range SA-10s. It has Russian-built Kilo-class submarines and Chinese-built Huodong boats boasting cruise missiles.
It has EM-53 bottom-tethered mines with rocket-propelled charges deliverable to a ship's hull at 70 mph. It has negotiated with Austria for .50-caliber HS50 Steyr-Mannlicher sniper rifles that can shoot down helicopters, penetrate Humvees and pierce body armor up to a mile away. It has acquired crucial components needed to enrich uranium and produce nuclear material for warheads.
Further, Iran praises Hamas and bankrolls not only Hezbollah but other terror groups. Its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a Holocaust denier, has called for rubbing out Israel. Though he insists Iran wants no nuclear weapons - saying "religious law" prohibits their possession - he no longer allows weapons inspectors in the country.
On March 30, the U.N. Security Council responded with a nonbinding statement calling upon Iran to abandon uranium enrichment within 30 days. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the statement "sends an unmistakable message to Iran that its efforts to conceal its nuclear program and evade its international obligations are unacceptable."
Old Europe, famous for appeasement, backed the resolution early. But the resolution reeks of conciliation and weakness - and deters Iran not at all. Nobel Peace-prizer Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, has said that if the Iranians "have the nuclear material and they have a parallel weaponization program along the way, they are really not very far - a few months - from a weapon."
So, yes - there's a huge problem with Iran. And Heaven help us if it ever acquires nukes. President Bush terms a nuclear-armed Iran "a grave threat to the security of the world." The U.S. has a 700-ton bomb designed to destroy nuclear or bio/chemical weapons in deep bunkers - and maybe Iran will require that we use it pre-emptively. Or perhaps Israel, as it did in 1981 with a strike destroying Saddam's Osirak nuclear plant, won't wait for Uncle Sam.
How profound is the threat a nuclear Iran poses? For the seminal statement on that one, consider Charles Krauthammer - in a Time column:
"Iran is just the first. With infinitely accelerated exchanges of information helping develop whole new generations of scientists, extremist countries led by similarly extreme men (such as Ahmadinejad) will be in a position to acquire nuclear weaponry. If nothing is done, we face not proliferation but hyper-proliferation. Not just one but many radical states will get weapons of mass extinction, and then so will the fanatical and suicidal terrorists who are their brothers and clients. . . .
"Iran is the test case. It is the most dangerous political entity on the planet, and yet the world response has been catastrophically slow and reluctant. Years of knowingly useless negotiations, followed by hesitant international resolutions, have brought us to only the most tentative of steps - referral to a Security Council that lacks unity and resolve. Iran knows this and therefore defiantly and openly resumes its headlong march to nuclear status.
"If we fail to prevent an Iranian regime run by apocalyptic fanatics from going nuclear, we will have reached a point of no return. It is not just that Iran might be the source of a great conflagration but that we will have demonstrated to the world that for those similarly inclined there is no serious impediment."