We are well along in a systemic decline in Russia's relations with the West. There is a familiar list of complaints from the industrial democracies regarding Moscow's actions, many of them justified. But most of Russia's contemporary offenses pale before what should be the West's highest policy priority — preventing Iran from possessing nuclear weapons.
According to a U.S. National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) released this week, it will be difficult to convince Tehran to forgo developing nuclear weapons, and Iran could produce sufficient highly enriched uranium for a weapon as early as 2010.
This latest NIE gives us a few more years to use diplomatic efforts than we previously thought. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that the United Nations Security Council, or the ad hoc sanctions currently being discussed, will be strong enough to force Iran away from any intention to acquire nuclear weapons, especially given that the effect of such measures are cushioned by oil selling over $90 a barrel. It is also highly doubtful that unconditional U.S.-Iran negotiations would yield results, although we should try. The prospect of severe economic sanctions, along with a package of incentives, would have the best chance of influencing Tehran's policy over the long run.
If diplomacy fails and the U.S. attacks Iran's nuclear facilities, the result would likely be a long war, as Tehran isn't likely to surrender. Such use of force would also further destabilize the Middle East, inflame the Islamic world, strengthen terrorist forces everywhere and would probably produce attacks on the American homeland. Given the projected meteoric rise in oil prices, such military action could trigger a global recession.