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EDITORIAL: Nuclear Iran

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Iran has emerged as a nuclear state, and there is nothing the United States can do about it.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced Thursday that Tehran has the capability to produce weapons-grade uranium but has no intention of building atomic bombs. "At the present time, we have the capability to produce very highly enriched fuel," he said, from 20 percent to 80 percent enriched - in other words, from weapons-usable to weapons-grade. But this is no reason for concern, he assured, because Iran "is brave enough to explicitly announce it if it wants to make a nuclear bomb; it will build it and is not afraid of you."

There is a reason that highly enriched uranium is called "weapons-grade," and it has nothing to do with peaceful uses of nuclear power. It is a measure of Western impotence that the United States went to war with Iraq in 2003 to prevent the very things Iran is announcing with pride in 2010. Had Saddam Hussein made the same claim, the question over weapons of mass destruction would have been settled at once. What is going on in Iran is not the "weapons of mass destruction-related activities" with which Saddam was charged; this is the stuff of nightmares.

Mr. Ahmadinejad also "officially announced" that "the era of superpowers and bullying" is over. He may be on to something. The United States has failed consistently to prevent Iran from pursuing a nuclear program. Repeated assertions from Washington that a nuclear Iran is unacceptable must be measured against the reality that Tehran can now produce nuclear weapons if it so desires. The unacceptable is rapidly becoming the undeniable.

The national security establishment sends signals that indicate it doesn't consider the mullahs' nuclear threat much of a problem. The section of the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) dealing with preventing proliferation and countering weapons of mass destruction does not mention Iran, and the review in general seems to focus more on conflict management, things like containment and post-strike cleanup rather than prevention. The confident claim that the problem is mainly one of adequate resourcing is unwarranted, as the failure of a missile-defense exercise against a simulated Iranian missile attack earlier this month illustrated.

Elsewhere, discussion swirls around various forms of sanctions: smart sanctions, focused sanctions, effective sanctions, sanctions that bite, and so forth. However, there is no reason to think that any sanctions regime will dissuade Tehran from its current course of action. If anything, sanctions could serve as an excuse for the Islamic regime to construct and test a nuclear weapon as a response to purported Western economic genocide, or some such claim.

Mr. Ahmadinejad appealed to President Obama to open his heart to change, essentially saying Tehran would reach out a hand if Washington would unclench its fist. However, he also underscored the growing irrelevance of the United States to influence events in the region. This is true. The limited courses of action being discussed in Washington are irrelevant. The Iranian nuclear issue will be decided by others. Tehran will pursue its revolutionary interests. Israel will act to guarantee its national survival. Other states in the region will do what they need to do as events unfold.

The United States should begin planning for the inevitable. Conflict is coming; it won't be managed away.

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