What if George W. Bush held your future in his hands?

He does.

Bush, who is fast nearing the mid-point of his second term, has yet to field a coherent policy regarding the grand dark-horse of 21st Century superpower politics, Iran.

Any move he makes will need to factor in a vast array of regional and global changes in the course of his presidency, among them, the vigor and influence of Al-Qaida, the sense of military and governmental momentum on the part of Hezbollah and Hamas, and the potency of the American armed forces in the long shadow of Iraq.

And then there is what may be called the Castration Clause.

Simply put, a government which is unwilling to use its power - and whose enemy knows of its unwillingness - has no power.

The sobering lose-lose coda:

A nuclear superpower that is unwilling to use the Bomb - and whose enemy knows of its unwillingness - has no bomb.

In a world in which a superpower may be unwilling or unable to exercise force, corollaries to the Castration Clause of deterrence say the following:

  • A side which is perceived by its enemy to be crazy, has deterrent power unavailable to the side which is perceived by its enemy to be rational.

  • A side which espouses, celebrates, rewards, enshrines martyrdom, which educates its youth toward death in what is couched as holy war, cannot be deterred by the same means that may apply to conventional nations and armies.

    This is especially true in nations, Israel among them, which over the years has placed a particular premium on preventing casualties to soldiers ? as a result, dithering at times over ground operations, and resorting to long-range bombing and shelling with high costs in civilian casualties and low rates of effectiveness.

  • A side which celebrates civilian deaths on its enemy's home front as victories, and which at the same time trumpets and exploits civilian deaths on its own home front as examples of war crimes [viz. Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, et al.] will be much freer to make far-reaching military decisions and claim overall triumph than will an adversary with a free press and a different value system.

    Little wonder, then, that George Bush seems yet to have made up his mind.

    There was a time, much earlier in his presidency, when Bush seemed to have come up with a workable deterrent strategy - beating mentally unstable Middle East despots at their own game, by appearing to be even wilier, loonier and less predictable than they were.

    Conjuring a bottomless arsenal of Hollywood images of fast-drawing Texans, coupled with a legendary record of executions approved while he held the state house in Austin, Bush was able for some time to give pause to the likes of Muammar Ghaddafi, arguably the least stable member of the region's leadership cohort.

    But that was then.

    In recent years, the doomed neo-conservative grand design of fostering democracy among people who not only disagree with you, but revile your very existence, has given new meaning to the word backfire.

    The Iraq campaign, the target of a degree of bloodshed unimaginable even in Middle Eastern terms, undermined by premature claims of allied victory and tardy acknowledgement of intelligence failures and misrepresentations, has tapped into the ever-available American reservoir of isolationism.

    If America has had its fill of involvement in the Middle East, as many Americans already freely declare, George Bush may be politically incapable of going to war.

    If he is - and you can bet that none of the European or Asian nuclear powers have any plans to move against Iran - then Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may just fine himself effectively in charge of the world's only remaining superpower, the only one, that is, actually willing to go to war.

    Should that occur, Iran has made little secret of the likely first target.

    As early as December, 2001, one of Ahmadinejad's predecessors, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, was quoted as declaring, "If one day, the Islamic world is also equipped with weapons like those that Israel possesses now, then the imperialists' strategy will reach a standstill because the use of even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything.

    By contrast to total annihilation in Israel, he said, a bomb "will only harm the Islamic world. It is not irrational to contemplate such an eventuality."

    On August 15, 2004, an Iranian military chief said that Israel and the U.S. would not dare to attack his country, since it could strike back anywhere in Israel with its latest Shehab 3 missiles.

    "The entire Zionist territory, including its nuclear facilities and atomic arsenal, are currently within range of Iran's advanced missiles," the ISNA students news agency quoted Yadollah Javani, the head of the Revolutionary Guards political bureau, as saying. "Therefore, neither the Zionist regime nor America will carry out its threats" against Iran, he said.

    Israel, which is some 1,200 kilometers from Iranian rockets, and more than 10,000 kilometers closer to Iranian rockets than New York or Washington are, has been watching Tehran's march toward technology - and Bush's response - with understandable interest.

    If Iran's shuck-and-jive dance with UN inspectors and negotiators can go on long enough, the entire dynamic could shift dramatically. A little more time, a lot more oil revenue, and the bomb goes Iranian.

    In the meanwhile, at least one thing has been proven beyond doubt. Bush, in fact, spent the summer learning this:

    A lack of policy is, in itself, a form of policy. And in the present world, it may also be the worst form. Failure to move through lack of policy, may, in fact, turn out to be your last move. Just ask Ehud Olmert, Amir Peretz, or Dan Halutz.