My question to Mark Warner has begun to attract more attention, though some of the treatment of the question seems to miss the point. But in the interest of clarification, I wanted to explain my thinking in more detail.
As a recap, at the blogger's chat after Mark Warner spoke, I challenged the Governor's assertion that Iran was the biggest WMD threat right now. I asked how he could argue that Iran was a bigger WMD threat than Pakistan, when Pakistan was tremendously unstable and, if Musharraf fell, Al Qaeda could have the bomb within weeks. Whereas Mohammed el-Baradei had just declared that Iran didn't have the bomb (that last bit was natasha's contribution). I pointed out that experts had described Pakistan as being similar to Iran in 1978. Only this Iran of 1978 already had the bomb.
Warner responded just about the way I think most candidates would respond (though I have heard Kerry speak very intelligently on this subject). He gave three or four real reasons why Iran was a threat, though none of them had anything to do with nukes. In short, he boxed himself into the same unsustainable logic for intervention that Bush used with the Iraq war--declare something a nuclear threat, when really he meant that it was a different kind of threat. In so doing, Bush and Warner both shut off some of the most effective solutions for the real, non-nuclear threat. (And for the record, I do think Iran is a bigger threat now than Iraq was in 2003, though that is thanks in part to our failed war in Iraq and our consequently ballooning debt.)
My goal with this question to Warner was simply to get him to think with more nuance about Iran. But I'd go further still. I'd say the best focus of efforts right now is Pakistan, not Iran (beyond maybe opening up diplomatic relations Iran). Until we begin to address the Pakistan problem we're never going to address the real threat in Iran or anywhere else the Neocons want to move their playground. Here's why.
First, as el-Baradei and others have said, Iran does not now have the bomb. If all goes well for the mullahs, it will take them five years (and by many estimates, ten) to generate enough highly-enriched uranium to build a bomb. The only thing that might change those estimates is if Iran gets help, either in the form of better technology and/or the uranium they need.
Well, far and away the most likely source for either of these two things is Pakistan, or at least the remnants of AQ Khan's nuclear network. It's clear that we don't know everything we'd like to know from AQ Khan, and there are unsupported allegations that remnants of the network remain functional. And it's also clear that Khan was a key supplier for most nations we call rogue--definitely Iran, Libya, and North Korea, and possibly Syria and Saudi Arabia. Rather than trying to stabilize the source of all this support for rogue states, we have treated one after another of these nations as a crisis unto itself.
But it's not going to serve our purposes to push for access to AQ Khan, as we now seem to be doing. That's just going to inflame more Pakistanis against Musharraf. Rather, we need to address the two reasons why support for AQ Khan has been non-negotiable with the Pakistanis: hard currency and national pride.
When Musharraf agreed to cooperate with us after 9/11, the thing he looked for the most was a textile deal, a way to bring in hard currency, the same kind of thing that cements US' alliance with Jordan. While such a relationship has been developing, we have courted Pakistan's neighbor India even more aggressively. Meanwhile, Iran and Pakistan have been wooing each other, including:
A proposed joint investment company to boost bilateral trade up to $1 billion
The ratification of a bilateral preferential trade agreement by the Iranian Parliament
A new Iranian center in Pakistan to provide artificial limbs for quake victim
Pakistan's opposition to a military option in the Iranian nuclear controversy
In short, in a period when we should have been working to develop stronger ties with Pakistan, Iran has stepped in and beat us to the punch. We have offered futile hard-nosed gestures in lieu of soft and economic diplomacy, and as a result our relationship with Pakistan and our ability to help stabilize its extremists has suffered. To say nothing of our nuclear deal with India.
All of this occurs, of course, against a backdrop in which Pakistan has extended its nuclear payload range three quarters of the way to Tel Aviv (and well within range of the Green Zone) and Pakistan's central government struggles to impose order in Baluchistan.
Oh, and last we heard, Mr. Dead or Alive was lounging around some tribal land in Pakistan.
I'm not saying I've got all the answers to the problem of Pakistan. But that's partly the point. We proved profoundly unable to foster civil society in Iraq, after bombing it to smithereens and releasing several decades of pent up ethnic tensions. But just about every "solution" the war party proposes for Iran would involve more of the same (not least because they're implicitly talking about regime change). Wouldn't it be a wiser move to try to try this whole nation-building thing in a country that is an ostensible ally, rather than trying it again in a post-hostility situation (to say nothing of the older Iranians who remember well our shenanigans in 1953)? I mean, if we can't get nation-building right in Pakistan, then how do they propose we get it right in Iran?
Which is why I invite everyone, every time someone raises the "Iran problem" to respond with a question about the "Pakistan problem." By addressing the latter first, we're more likely to succeed. And we'll break the cycle of chasing down one after another "rogue state" crisis. More importantly, by addressing the problem of nuclear proliferation at its source, we might be able to stop invading all these other countries. And while we eliminate that threat everywhere, we can try to establish real relations with Iran before it becomes the problem it is promised to be, five years down the road.