With Iran achieving the status of US threat #1 , it's time to make some discussion on the problem.
To give credit where credit's due, I've just read the Persian Puzzle, a book discussing the history of US-Iranian relations as well as the author's (former Clinton ME advisor) recommendations for the future, so his thoughts are bringing some influencing this discussion.
First, the problem, or problems, Iran presents to the United States:
First, the short term threat. Iran is obviously developping nuclear weapons, a bad thing in view of its stated intentions to wipe Israel off the map, its aggressive foreign policy in the past, and the possible nuclear arms race it could spark in the Middle East.
Second, the long term, and ongoing, problem. Iran is (surprise), something of an anti-American dictatorship. Its hodgepodge government consists of an all powerful religious leader who rules for life, currently Khameini, a parliament, called the Majiles, and the President. The latter two are democratically elected, but the pool of candidates is vetted by the Council of Guardians, a hardliner stronghold. Additionally, votes are slanted through hardline use of thug groups (more advanced versions of Iraq's nascent militias), state controlled media, and outright fraud to insure that hardline candidates win. Although it still calls itself a theocracy, recent moves to liberalize the religious guidelines (what you wear, what music you listen to, couples can now hold hands in public) so as to address social unrest demonstrate that above all power, not religious zeal, is what matters most to Iran's leades. This dictatorship is a problem because they are self-pronounced anti-American, they pump enough oil to render themselves essential to the world economy, they have supported and instigated terrorism in the past, they are the largest supporters of extremist Islam, and they work counter to American goals in the Middle East, such as the Israeli peace process through, among other actions, their support of Hamas and the Lebanese Hizbollah.
The second problem is an ongoing one that, although a solution would be wise, we can afford to ignore. The first requires urgent attention. I'll run through some solutions in coming posts.