Good cop, good cop
In my view, the Iran program halted in 2003 because of the massive and initially successful American use of military power in Iraq. The United States offered no “carrots” to Iran, but only wielded an enormous stick. ...They did not publicly announce this halt because if they did so, they would be perceived as weak within Iran, and within the region. By continuing the enrichment program, they kept the weapon option open.
Given observable uranium enrichment activity, enough uranium will be available for one bomb in one year. It does not makes sense for a country to test its first and only weapon when it has none in reserve to deter attacks. So the first test is not likely before two years from now or late 2009.
What will Iranian behavior be after the first test? All countries, with the exception of India, that have developed their own nuclear weapon, have transferred that technology to other countries.
As I wrote in Not that Far, embracing the line that sanctions and diplomacy alone can bring Iran to heel ironically work against, well, sanctions and diplomacy.
What the new NIE has done -- and why I think even the liberals are so worried -- is that the intelligence assessment has made it very difficult to sustain even the bluff of working towards regime change; a threat they would have no truck with but at the same time probably found useful for so long as they could get a President George W. Bush to articulate it. Now that the doves have got what they ostensibly wanted, whether by design or misadventure, it has become apparent that it's not everything they wanted after all. It's ironic that an NIE which was supposed to have "proved" the usefulness of sanctions and diplomacy may wind up underlining its ultimate inadequacy without the threat of more dire action to give it teeth.
The reason is simple. Diplomacy and sanctions work best within a "good cop, bad cop" scenario. Iran had an incentive to meet with the European and UN "good cops" only for as long as it feared the "bad cop". Once the "bad cop" sits it out the "good cop" will be laughed at to his face. Rosen continues:
The prediction is that the Iranians will use nuclear carrots and sticks to induce Gulf states to ask the United States to withdraw from their current bases, sometime after 2009.
Liberals should be careful of what they want because they may get it.