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"The prevailing assumption is that we know what's best for others, and we are going to use our economic stick to make everyone live in the way we want." This wasn't said by some Californian leftists carrying a battered placard outside the White House to protest its policy of economic coercion. It was actually said in 1996 by Richard Cheney, then chairman of the Halliburton Corp., which was indirectly doing business with Iran. Cheney was furious about the American policy of sanctions against Iran. Now he is vice president of the U.S. and supports sanctions against Iran.

Cheney of 1996 and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of 2006 have something in common: They're disgusted by how the world is run by the U.S. And it's not only them. The ideological mishmash that includes the charm of exporting democracy as well as labeling states according to their degrees of 'evil' has become in the best case a cartoon and in the worst, a blood-soaked tragedy in Iraq. The problem is that the marketer of that ideology is the only power today that might be able to block the threat of a nuclear Iran. And there is no choice but to admit that the Israelis are the last party capable of ideologically or politically criticizing the bouncer, even if he looks like a bully and acts like one, too. But the belief in force also deserves examination, precisely because of the feeling that the U.S. doesn't really have a ready answer to the Iranian challenge.

On this matter, George W. Bush is no different than his predecessors. Since the Khomeini revolution, the U.S. has found it difficult to maintain a consistent policy on Iran. President Ronald Reagan detested the Iranian revolutionaries, but he also got the hostages back from them and conducted roundabout deals with them with Israel's help. George Bush Sr. was Reagan's vice president at the time of the Iran-contra affair. He knew about some of those deals and did not manage to formulate a clear American policy against Iran. Iraq was more interesting to him. Even the Clinton administration, which took some relatively small practical steps to advance U.S.-Iranian relations, also imposed sanctions Bush Sr. never managed to enforce.

The trauma of the revolution, the hostage crisis and the loss of influence in Iran dictates American policy to this day, and deepens the feeling that the U.S. is more successful at coming up with an ideology than actually implementing it. Otherwise, there is no way to understand why it agreed to negotiate with North Korea, whose leader is not exactly a democrat and apparently has nuclear weapons, yet was forcibly dragged into negotiations with Iran after Bush, racing to Tehran with sword drawn, realized he had lost his European, Russian and Chinese soldiers. Now, after approving an incentives package for Iran, Bush became terribly angry after Iran said it was not prepared to adopt the package wholeheartedly and still had negotiation conditions. Bush and the international community - which still hasn't come up with an efficient way to domesticate rogue countries - once again are rolling from one 'deadline' to the next with the same old merchandise that stinks of the colonialist spirit of the carrot and the stick - or a military threat.

It is best to admit frankly that the international community does not have real solutions to guarantee an absolute end to Iran's nuclear development. It is possible that the international ruckus has been too late, and it wouldn't be baseless to assume that Iran, if it wants it very much, will have nuclear weapons like India, Pakistan and apparently Israel all do. If that assumption is true, then the next question on the agenda in a few years will be how to prevent Iran from making use of its nuclear capability. An answer may be found to that question if instead of now pouncing on Iran with a barrage of sanctions, a multi-year plan is proposed, a plan that relates to Iran as a society in that institution known as the 'family of nations,' and not only as an arms storehouse that must be destroyed.