Throughout the 2004 Bush for President campaign the incumbent candidate was dogged by supporters bearing signs demanding "Iran Next". Presumably, the 'protesting' party faithful believed Iraq after a healthy dose of 'shock and awe', had by then learned its lesson. So on to the second point on the axis of evil, its neighbor to the east. Third up, one can only assume, would be Kim Jong II's North Korean paradise.

Those signs frightened the 'be Jezzuz' out of anyone with the slightest comprehension of the impact just such a move would have on international stability. What were these city slickers in cowboy garb, thinking? They weren't. Their minds instead were consumed by a knee jerk, kick-ass mentality nurtured in the rhetoric of their President and his more belligerent underlings.

Why the lust for war from otherwise peaceable people? Hurt pride, perhaps. Saddam had threatened to have Bush 41 killed. Iran had greatly humiliated America, its Great Satan, in the 1979 hostage crisis. No! We were told. The United States must stand up against nations that threaten international peace and security. Craftily, by implication, Bush and Co. played on fear, raising the implausible specter of a Saddam-initiated nuclear holocaust. The same is now being said of Iran.

Whether the US or its allies approve, Iran has the right to do what it is doing. Sure the Iranians have broken international protocols in terms of their openness about what and where they are doing it. But this does not alter the fact that as a sovereign nation, moreover as a signatory of the non-proliferation pact, Iran has broken no conventions governing the rights of nations to carry out such a scientific program.

For the Americans and Europeans the problem lies with Iran's intent. Nuclear research for peaceful purposes is one thing. Investigating a military application, quite another. But there is no treaty requirement that precludes the latter. The crunch comes when the theory is sufficiently well understood to morph into practicality. The problem for the threatened is when to time the pulling of the plug. Should the research be allowed to run its course? If so, is the world then confronted with an irreversible fait accompli? Or should the process, if not properly monitored, be forestalled?

The inclination to act preemptively is overwhelming, for obvious reasons. Hence the signs seen at Republican campaign rallies. Better stop it before it's too late! But then why weren't the placard-bearers and their leaders just as disturbed about the shadily acquired Pakistani nuclear bomb, or the never publicly admitted Israeli capability, or the successful Indian nuclear tests?

Is containing the scourge of nuclear proliferation the goal, or is it only to prevent perceived adversaries from getting their sticky fingers on a nuclear button of their own? If so, then policy-makers forget that to all our potential peril in international relations today's friend is just as likely tomorrow's enemy. What happens, for example, in the eventuality Pakistan is taken over by Islamic fundamentalists? Could the international community ask such Jihadists to give up their inherited nuclear toys because it then deems them in unacceptable hands?

The response one imagines would be somewhat similar to Iran's actual reaction. Even liberal, anti-theocratic Iranians are mystified by the apparent duplicity in non-proliferation politics. A piece-meal approach of - some can have, some cannot - rejects the consistency essential if controlling the spread of nuclear weaponry is ever to work. Ultimately, the nuclear have-nots ask themselves why they should remain deprived, while the nuclear haves lord themselves over the globe.

As diplomatic exchanges with Iran heat up, its more and more apparent that words are the only weapons those averse to Iran's nuclear stand dare deploy. Strategic strikes won't work, as the exact locations of Iran's critical nuclear installations are largely unknown. An invasion is out, too much going on next door east and west. Covert sabotage is questionable. Or is it?

So despite the threat of economic sanctions (realistically, a non-starter) Iran's acquisition of a nuclear device appears inevitable. And everybody knows it. Read between the diplomatic lines. Note the self-perpetuating play for time. Each tiny counter step taken after consultation among nations whose advice was ignored prior to the US invasion of Iraq.

At least Iran's entry to the nuclear club will clear the fog of non-proliferation politics. We shall see the world for what it is rather than what we would have it be. Anyway, who for a minute really imagined that once the nuclear cat was out of the bag only a few would be allowed to play with it? Iran is, indeed, very likely next, but not quite as those who called for war against it in 2004 imagined.

Tav Murray lives in Christiana. His e-mail address is

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