On Iran, Barack Obama Is No Chamberlain

U.S. president doesn't hold an umbrella - he carries a big stick, even though he might speak softly to Iran.

In the factory churning out threatening scenarios, the economic slump has had no effect. But there's still a wide variety, something for everyone. Swine flu, North Korean ballistic missiles, collapsing banks, Hezbollah getting stronger, and of course, the mother of all threats, the Iranian nuclear program combined with an American president who has already been compared to Neville Chamberlain because of his conciliatory approach. This triangle, nukes-Iran-Obama, incites hypochondriacs to new heights. They are certain the whole world is about to kneel before tremendous evil.

And what about the neighboring countries that also have nuclear capabilities: India and Pakistan, Russia and China? Does Iran not appreciate the meaning of the nuclear balance of terror? And what happened to the nuclear deterrent that foreigners attribute to Israel? If it fails to deter Iran, what is its reason for being?

The oracles explain that Iran is a mad country. It will be ready to sacrifice hundreds of thousands of its citizens to destroy Israel. Look at what they did to their children during the Iran-Iraq War. Iran is also a Shi'ite country, and after all, everyone knows that the Shi'ites have a built-in desire for suicide, even though "mad" Iran has conducted normal diplomatic relations with most countries. Its regime is built on method and order. The Iranian opposition, even if it is limited, can still voice its views in parliament and the media more freely than, for example, the opposition in Saudi Arabia. This is a country that has nurtured a generation of scientists who, despite international sanctions, have developed advanced technologies, not only nuclear, and its pupils do better than Israel's in international competitions.

Religious Iran did not do away with scientific learning or festivals with pagan origins. That's because the Iranian regime knows its clientele and understands its limits. There's no madness here. As for the willingness of the Shi'ites to commit suicide, it's worthwhile to analyze how many Sunnis have killed themselves in suicide bombings in Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Palestine. The results would surprise adherents to the schools of thought on suicidal Shi'ites.

But logic and panic do not go hand in hand. Iran's nuclear program was not considered a threat when leaders thought to be "reasonable" were in power, like Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami. The nuclear panic clock began only when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected president in 2005. In 10 years or maybe two, the experts predicted, not really knowing what was going on, Iran would be able to make nuclear weapons. Iran stepped up to the challenge, beat that timetable and made it irrelevant. But a closer examination suggests that Iran's nuclear program is not the threat, but Ahmadinejad. After all, to top it all off, he denies the Holocaust. Holocaust, Chamberlain, Hitler, nuclear annihilation, Obama, Ahmadinejad. Can there be anything better for stoking panic?

So what to do? Bomb a country with nuclear technology just in case one day it might have nuclear weapons? Why not start with the ones who already have them, like North Korea or Pakistan, which, after all, has also been marked the most dangerous country in the world? Impose more sanctions? After all, Iran has been under sanctions of one form or another since the revolution, and maybe the sanctions have only fed her desire to acquire a nuclear deterrent.

Perhaps the solution is to try something still untried: dialogue, lifting the sanctions and authorizing American businessmen to do in Iran what their Russian, Chinese, German and French colleagues have been doing for years: To see Iran as a partner in conflicts where it has influence, like in Sudan, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, as well as with Hamas and Hezbollah. Not by coercion, but by recognizing that Iran has accumulated political power in the region over the years. Perhaps, had George W. Bush adopted such a policy, the Iranian threat would look different. Had Bill Clinton taken another step beyond permission to export nuts and carpets to the United States, maybe Tehran would now have an American nuclear reactor for producing electricity.

Barack Obama is no Chamberlain. He does not carry an umbrella - he carries a big stick, even though he might speak softly to Iran. Of course, we can always continue enjoying the panic. But Obama's approach is better.