Matt Yglesias wonders whether Iranian nukes are actually a problem. The question is worth asking.
First problem is the question of instability in the Islamic Republic. Iran is more stable than a lot of hawks would like to think, but it has enough problems to raise concerns about its future. No one wants to see a nuclear state in the middle of a revolution or regime disintegration. It should be noted, however, that Pakistan is a bit more of a concern on this point.
Second, Iranian nukes cut U.S. freedom of action. This might be a good thing for the world, but it’s hard to sell to an American foreign policy audience. Nuclear weapons buy Iran immunity from US intervention. Not total immunity, but a significant level. This could make Iran more willing to extend influence into Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea. Iran becomes a much larger containment problem for the United States than Iraq ever was.
Are these worth the difficulties we would have to endure in order to cut the program off? To me, no. Even before the disaster of the Bush administration, forcing Iran to yield its nuclear program would have been very difficult, and might well have resulted in war. Now that the US hand has been weakened and the Iranian strengthened, intervention isn’t even on the table.
So, we need to start accomodating ourselves to the idea of a nuclear Iran. That may mean taking steps to ensure Iranian stability, and cutting a mutually acceptable deal on US and Iranian influence in the Middle East. Call me an appeaser if you will. . .