This Cato Unbound essay on Iran matches my thoughts on the subject quite well. I am not as sure as the author that the Bush administration is as indecisive on the issue as he claims, I hope at least that Bush is waiting for more serious action to show he gave Iran every chance rather than because he is paralyzed and unwilling to act. Regardless of that though, the crux of the problem remains, and this excerpt illustrates it quite well in my opinion:
Which brings us back to the question that senior US officials have been assiduously avoiding since 2002, but which nevertheless defines the nature and intensity of America’s diplomatic dialogue with the Europeans and the Iranians. Would you rather have the mullahs get a nuclear weapon or would you rather have the United States try to militarily stop them from acquiring the bomb through preventive air strikes? Do you fear the repercussions of a nuclear Islamic Republic more than you fear the repercussions from an American attack? As I have written elsewhere, I think the risks to us and others from a nuclear-armed clerical regime are too great and that we should make every effort, including repeated military strikes, to thwart the clerics’ quest for the bomb. Containment and deterrence seem a poor fall-back strategy. Iran is too rich in oil and gas, and the likelihood of Iran’s neighbors, as well as the Europeans, growing more fearful and thus more accommodating to a nuclear-armed clerical regime is high. Americans and Europeans did a poor job of responding to Iranian terrorism in the past, when the Islamic Republic didn’t have the bomb in its arsenal. We, not the Iranians, are the ones most likely to be deterred by nuclear chicken.It seems unthinkable that the United States would, for example, unleash any massive military strike against Iran that would kill thousands of innocent Iranians for the terrorism of its dictatorial leadership. The theory of deterrence just doesn’t give that much comfort to Western powers confronting terrorism-fond radical Islamic states. We have never before confronted a terrorism-supporting regime whose very identity and survival is inextricably tied to divinely-sanctified anti-Americanism. We can easily think up many reasons why we would not want to bomb the Islamic Republic’s nuclear sites, but all of these reasons are subsidiary to how you calculate the risk of giving a nuclear weapon to Ali Khamenei, Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Yes, it will be difficult to bomb all of the sites in Iran, but the most critical are well known—Natanz, Isfahan, Arak, Tehran, and Bushehr. These facilities took the Iranians years to build under ideal circumstances. Under siege, building new sites clandestinely will be a demanding, time-consuming task. The issue isn’t feasibility, but the determination to strike whenever required since the assessment of risk does not allow any other course of action. Delay the program by several years, and you may end it. Delay the program, and you could deny the nuke to extremists who would’ve used or exploited it. (A parallel with Saddam Hussein after Osirak comes to mind.) Supervening events can always change history to your advantage. If you think the risks of a clerical bomb are too high—that a nuclear weapon in the hands of Islamic militants in an age of increasing Islamic terrorism is unacceptable—then you will be in favor of striking, knowing the grave repercussions from such strikes.
Ending Iran’s nuclear ambitions will be a difficult, dangerous and thanksless task. There is no getting around that. Like many things that are important, it will be hard.
Anyway, read the essay, it brings out numerous important points.