The Economist, which is measured in its judgments and sympathetic to America, tartly referred to the supposed evidence of Iran’s intentions to attack U.S. forces, allies, or “interests” as “suspiciously unspecific.” Such skepticism, foreign and domestic, reflects 16-year-old memories of certitudes about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction: Remember Secretary of State Colin Powell spending days at the CIA receiving assurances about the evidence. There also are concerns about the impetuosity of a commander in chief who vows that military conflict would mean “the official end” of Iran, whatever that means.

U.S. policy makes easing economic sanctions against Iran contingent on Iran doing twelve things, most of which (e.g., halting development of ballistic missiles, withdrawing from Syria, ending support for allied groups) it almost certainly will not do. This U.S. policy is congruent with U.S. disregard of this truth: Any nation, however prostrate, poor, or ramshackle, that ardently wants nuclear weapons can acquire them. Just four years after Hiroshima, the Soviet Union, which had been laid to waste by World War II, became a nuclear power. China was an impoverished peasant society in 1964 when it detonated a nuclear weapon. Pakistan’s per capita income was $470 in 1998 when it joined the nuclear club. In the more than a decade since North Korea acquired nuclear weapons, U.S. policy has pronounced this “unacceptable.” But U.S. behavior has been to accept it while unfurling the tattered flag of arms control — hoping to talk North Korea into giving up what it has devoted three decades to developing.