With regard to Iran, everyone who is at all prominent in the debate about what we should do -- everyone, Democrat, Republican or otherwise -- insists that we have "to get the intelligence right this time." In other words: if we are convinced that Iran is actually trying to get nuclear weapons (even though all the best estimates indicate they still won't have even one for five to 10 years), then something has to be done. Usually, the proponents of this view add that something has to be done now, or very soon.
Just as I argued with regard to Iraq, I offer a resounding no. Once again, the decision is one of policy and judgment, and the intelligence will have nothing to do with it. Even if Iran had nuclear weapons in five or 10 years, many factors strongly argue against the likelihood that they would ever use them against the United States. There is no evidence to suggest that Iran's leaders are entirely suicidal: any attack that could be traced back to Iran would surely result in the large-scale destruction of that country. They know that, so do we, and so does everyone else. Given our current foreign policy of attacking and occupying any country on earth that our current leaders take a strong dislike to -- whether that country constitutes a threat to us or not -- it is hardly surprising that Iran and other nations want a nuclear deterrence of their own, to protect them from our lethal lunacy. Moreover, it is well-known, despite the fact that it is almost never mentioned in our polite political debates, that Israel has a very sizable nuclear arsenal. I should remind you that Israel is not a signatory to the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, and that Iran is. If Iran and Israel both had nuclear weapons at their disposal, that might actually serve to stabilize the Middle East situation, and make a wider regional war less likely. This is not a complicated or controversial thought. It is blindingly logical and straightforward. (Obligatory point for the thinking-impaired: this is not to say that I view a nuclear Iran as a good thing. I don't view it as a remotely good thing that anyone has nuclear weapons, including us. [That is especially true, since we're the only country that has used them-- even when we did not have to, and even when we lied about the devastating human consequences.] I am simply suggesting that the results may not in fact be the End Times calamity that so many assume.)
It's a habit from the engineering side of my life, which is often useful in philosophy, to consider extreme cases in formulating and evaluating general principles. However, a war with Iran is not an abstract philosophical issue: It's a real issue with real human lives at stake, and it's as important to be accurate as it is to be general.
Iran is a long way off from acquiring any sort of meaningful nuclear weapons. Based on historical evidence, a nuclear-armed Iran is not even a major threat, and might (given the insane logic of MAD) actually stablize the region. Given the United States' aggression in Iraq and aggressive rhetoric towards Iran, self-defense becomes a compelling rational justification for the acquisition of nuclear weapons. And--unless one assumes that those pesky brown beings with that incomprehensible religion aren't actually (more or less rational) human beings--Israel, itself a nuclear power, seems well able to defend itself from a nuclear-armed Iran. Such temporal considerations are as important as (if not more important than) theoretical philosophizing.
Now, I am a philosopher, not a journalist or historian, so I'm going to continue looking at this issue from a more philosophical perspective. On the other hand, I'm going to heed Mr. Silber's criticism and make much more explicit where I'm making counterfactual assumptions for maximum generality and try to include my best understanding of the actual facts.