Iran and the U.S. are engaged in a hypocritical little dance, which might be funny if the possibility of miscalculation were not so great.
Ahmadinejad announces the intention of achieving the ability to use Iranian uranium for medical purposes as though it were a challenge to American superpower status. That’s good for him politically, at least within his close personal circles. Then, Clinton and Gates and Obama and all the usual Israeli hawks respond with threatening remarks about the danger Iran poses; that’s good for them politically.
So the politicians on both sides who either are extremists looking for a good war or who want to be perceived as extremists egg each other on, feed off each other, and create a dangerous dynamic that could truly lead to war and that at a minimum does in fact empower extremism on both sides.
But the reality is even more complicated than that because Iran actually is a threat – not to US national security but to a foreign policy goal that is now very popular in Washington: ensuring that everyone in the Mideast bow down to American leadership. Iran‘s crime, in Washington eyes, is to stand alone as the only regional state with an independent position. Iran may not be able to do very much, but it is a symbol of independence that could easily spread and shake what arguably is a rather shaky American/Israeli house.
There is nothing natural about Israel having a regional nuclear monopoly, being able to get away with thinly veiled nuclear threats against non-nuclear Iran, having the “right” to tell neighbors (e.g., Lebanon) what weapons they are allowed to possess, or being allowed to attack neighbors (e.g., Syria) whenever they build or buy something Israel disapproves of. There is also nothing natural about Washington constructing a huge archipelago of military bases throughout the region and insisting that all regional states follow Washington’s lead and play by a highly discriminatory set of rules that Washington crafts specially for each state. It is, therefore, understandable that Washington might view the regional position it has built for itself as shaky. To a degree—and no one really knows how to measure this—Washington’s regional dominance rests on a foundation of bluff: Washington dares the locals to protest, but as long as no one does, Washington wins. Iran is in the crosshairs because it alone among the region’s states, dares to call Washington’s bluff.