NEW YORK – History rarely unfolds smoothly or evenly. Instead, it tends to be punctuated by major developments – battles, assassinations, breakthroughs – that have consequences that are felt for years.
Thirty-one years after the revolution that ousted the Shah and brought Islamic rule to Iran, we are at one of those turning points. To be sure, we do not know the degree, direction, or pace of change. What we do know, however, is that what happens in Iran will materially affect not just that country but the entire Middle East and beyond.
One future for Iran would be mostly an extension of what already exists, i.e., an Iran run by conservative clerics and an aggressive Revolutionary Guard, with the latter increasingly enjoying the upper hand. The Iranian regime would continue to brutally repress its domestic opponents, meddle in Iraq and Afghanistan, arm and fund Hezbollah and Hamas, and, most important, develop the ability to construct one or more nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them.
The emergence of such a future would present the world with a stark choice: either acquiesce to an Iran that possesses or could quickly assemble a nuclear device, or launch a preventive military attack designed to destroy much of the Iranian nuclear program.