North Korea, bereft of friends and access to the outside world, sits isolated but for its great northern neighbor and its ports, so it can be fairly easily contained as a nuclear power. But Iran boasts Shiite followers in a wide arc of the Muslim world, produces oil with which it wins friends and influences people, is bound by eight neighbors and trades with them and many others. It fields and funds terrorists such as Hezbollah who do its bidding when needed. So Iran is not easily contained. That flexibility, and the fact that Iran learned from Iraq's experience when Israel destroyed the Osirak nuclear plant -- disperse your facilities, bury them, reinforce them and lie about them -- makes them a formidably difficult state to isolate or control.
That was the basic summary offered by the Bush administration's top arms control official, Ambassador Robert Joseph, speaking with reporters at the Heritage Foundation. "Iran is the hardest case. In North Korea you can practice containment," Joseph said. Complicating the problem even more is that an Israeli strike against Iran's nuclear facilities might serve to unite the Iranian people against both Israel and the United States. "If Israel strikes, we are going to be blamed for it regardless of whether we did anything," he said.
Asked if the U.S should turn a blind eye to an Israeli strike or help them with one, Joseph said he was "not an enthusiast for using force against Iran because there are tremendous consequences." Those consequences would include the use of the economic weapon of oil and attacks against U.S forces, facilities and our allies. On top of all that, as we headed to the elevator after the discussion, Joseph added that the Iranians are very effective in their use of diplomacy, intelligence and deception.
And those cautionary notes come from a Republican who served as undersecretary of State for arms control and international security. Imagine how enthusiastic Obama's senior national security people are about hitting Iran.