The poisonous, punishing politics of 2006 are already making me queasy. How on earth are our two great political parties going to come together to deal with this?
The debate on Iran is drifting toward the ugly question that the Bush administration would most like to avoid. That is: Is it preferable for the United States to live with the consequences of a nuclear-armed Iran, or with those of a unilateral American military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities?
President Bush has never answered that question; instead, he and his State Department have repeatedly called an Iranian bomb “intolerable” while building a diplomatic coalition that won’t tolerate a military solution. But two of our more principled senators, Republican John McCain and Democrat Joe Lieberman, have this month faced the Iranian Choice — and both endorsed military action. McCain was most direct: “There is only one thing worse than the United States exercising a military option,” he said on “Face the Nation.” “That is a nuclear-armed Iran.”
It’s easy to see why the Bush administration prefers ambiguity to McCain’s decisive judgment. After all, both options are terrible, and everyone can agree that diplomacy is worth a try. Yet Bush and both parties in Congress ought to be thinking through their own answers to the Iranian Choice, for two reasons. First, it looks more likely than not that the United States will, in the end, have to make that decision; and, second, the answer to the question ought to shape how the coming diplomatic phase is managed.
This is a heavy load of history, at a time when our fabric of our civic discourse seems frayed beyond patching; a time when the idea of reaching consensus is mocked as a sign of weakness or disloyalty.
Can the petty people in Washington put aside their spiteful grievances long enough to consider the problem of Iran as if it mattered beyond the next fundraiser or campaign ad?
Our country’s been so lucky. We thrive despite lousy leadership in every sector of society. But that’s the thing about luck. You can enjoy it, but you can’t trust it.