Vice President Dick Cheney found a friendly audience for his latest hawkish statements about Iran, but his March 7 speech before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee 2006 Policy Conference was obviously quite constrained compared to what he and others in the Bush administration used to say about Iraq, back in 2002 and early 2003.

To begin, Cheney focuses exlusively on nuclear weapons, rather than the more ubiquitous notion of “weapons of mass destruction.”

The regime in Tehran also continues to defy the world with its nuclear ambitions. Of course, this matter may soon go before the U.N. Security Council. The Iranian regime needs to know that if it stays on its present course, the international community is prepared to impose meaningful consequences. For our part, the United States is keeping all options on the table in addressing the irresponsible conduct of the regime. And we join other nations in sending that regime a clear message: We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.

Maybe he was just being careful, but security NGOs believe that Iran might well have chemical and biological weapons. If Cheney was trying to drum up support for war, I’d bet he’d mention them.

Maybe the administration is genuinely shy about a new war?

Moreover, though Cheney emphasizes the right of Iranians to political freedom, he does not promise that the current showdown will end with a regime change. Indeed, by emphasizing the words of the “current President,” he implicitly distinguishes the Iranian government from Saddam Hussein’s multi-decade Stalinist rule:

Iranians have endured a generation of repression at the hands of a fanatical regime. That regime is one of the world’s primary state sponsors of terror. The current President has spoken openly of wiping Israel off the map, and of a world without America. He’s made despicable statements doubting the crimes of the Nazis, aligning himself with the rest of the fantasy-world Holocaust deniers….

The people of Iran can be absolutely certain that we respect them, their country, and their long history as a great civilization — and we stand with them. Iranians desire and deserve to be free from tyranny and oppression in their own homeland. Freedom in the Middle East requires freedom for the Iranian people — and America looks forward to the day when our Nation can be the closest of friends with a free and democratic Iran.

Anyone want to bet that Bush/Cheney will be long out of office by the time that imagined meeting occurs?

As I’ve blogged elsewhere, it is a lot easier to create a failed state than it is to fix one. If nothing else, the “Iraq Syndrome” has brought a modicum of humility to overturn the hubris that defined American foreign policy in 2003. American military might cannot be used to create a stable new democracy in the Middle East. At least not in short-order.

Even the hawks in the Bush administration appear to recognize this now.

It’s not much, but it is a start.

Note: I omitted the notations of applause from the Cheney quotes. This was a very friendly audience, after all. Do top members of the administration ever speak before any other kind?

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