The United States sent a clear message to Iran yesterday that if all attempts fail at a diplomatic solution to the current stand-off, it is prepared to use force to end Tehran's perceived nuclear threat and its role as a fomentor of international terrorism.
Offering a robust reaffirmation of the Bush administration's doctrine of pre-emptive action to deal with threats to national security, the latest four-yearly National Security Strategy published by the White House declares that the US "may face no greater challenge from a single country than from Iran".
Tehran's suspected military nuclear programme is only part of the problem. More generally, the 49-page document says that Iran endangers regional stability with its threats against Israel, its sponsorship of terrorism, its disruptive influence in Iraq and its efforts to thwart a Middle East peace settlement.
Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman, described the revised strategy yesterday as "an update of the document of 2002". Like its predecessor, it contends the US has the right to strike first at a potential attacker, "even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place" of that attack. The United States "cannot afford to stand idly by as grave dangers materialise".
The 2002 strategy was unveiled six months before the invasion of Iraq. This one leaves no doubt that the focus now is on Iran - whose current sins, as catalogued in the 2006 document, are eerily similar to the accusations against Saddam Hussein's regime four years ago. The overall tone of the document, issued on the very day that the US launched what is billed as the biggest anti-insurgent offensive in Iraq in three years, is if anything even more sweeping and assertive than its predecessor.
The current plunge in President George Bush's popularity, fuelled by growing disillusion with the Iraq war, seems to have had little impact. The war on terror was not over but already, the strategy claims, "America is safer" - even though that assertion is contradicted by almost every recent opinion poll here.
The document makes familiar nods in the direction of diplomacy, and of multilateral action to tackle the world's problems. It also acknowledges that "elections alone are not enough" to set a country irrevocably on the path to liberty. It talks instead about the need for "effective democracy," from which all elements of a country's population have the opportunity to benefit.
But it echoes the soaring themes of Mr Bush's second inaugural speech of January 2005, setting out the US aim of promoting democracy and human rights, with the ultimate goal of eradicating tyranny from the face of the earth. "An end to tyranny will not mark an end to all global ills," the document acknowledges. "Yet tyranny must not be tolerated - it is a crime of man, not a fact of nature." Iran is one of seven "tyrannies" specifically mentioned in the report, along with Syria, North Korea, Zimbabwe, Burma, Cuba and Belarus.
But other important countries are chided for their failings. "Regrettably," the strategy notes in a rebuke to Russia's President, Vladimir Putin, "recent trends suggest a diminishing commitment to democratic freedoms and institutions." The document also complains of China's support for resource-rich countries "without regard for misrule at home or misbehaviour abroad of those regimes" - a clear reference in particular to China's closer energy ties with Iran.Reuse content