Justin's thoughts on my post arguing the merits of the EU's lead role in Iran deserve a quick response. The world, he argues, is more complex than I give it credit for, mainly because the EU has no credible military force nor the appetite to introduce sanctions and our threats don't matter because they've been spoken aloud. I'll grant him the EU's military impotence, but nobody's talking about an invasion of Iran. The most violence being considered are surgical air-strikes, and even they're out of favor given the spread and secrecy of Iran's nuclear facilities. With America straining terribly to occupy Iran's weaker neighbor, there never was a credible threat of our force in the first place, so I wouldn't worry so much about that.
Sanctions are a bit trickier. As Justin rightly notes, Europe has shown no interest in sacrificing trade to punish Iran during past transgressions, what reason is there to believe they'll behave differently now? This, in a sense, was the point of my original post. In the past, Europe could and did rely on America to take the lead on Iran. In the past, Europe trusted America to take the lead on Iran. That allowed them to play good cop, relying on useless measures like the Critical Dialogue and working to stay our hand when they judged us unfair. That made them, to the Iranians, an honest broker, not to mention the main force ensuring America's enmity didn't isolate Iran from the global community. But now, Europe no longer trusts our ability to calm the paranoid Ayatollah, and, indeed, they quite want to do it themselves. Iran, for their part, can't allow the Europeans to pull away, their economy would collapse and a population increasingly desirous of international relations would grow chaotic for the first time since 1999. So while America's behavior is counterproductive, it's really beside the point. The mullahs will certainly use it for rhetorical advantage, but everyone at the negotiating table knows who the players are, and both sides know the stakes. The EU needs the prestige, Iran needs the EU. So, for once, there is the chance that the EU will implement sanctions simply because they're likely to work. Similarly, Iran will listen because, if they alienate Europe, they've nowhere else to turn. In that way, it's really not very complex at all.
The critical variable in all this is how close Iran is to the bomb. They've dropped vague hints that they've already got one, but that's unlikely (despite A.Q. Khan's best efforts). If they're close, they're going to rush across the finish line no matter who wants to stop them and how serious they are. Once they've got the weapon, the world will have to deal with it as fact, preventing it is no longer an option. But if they're still far, they can only stall for so long, and will probably be forced to make a deal. So is the rhetoric a bargaining chip or an accurate reflection of reality? We don't know and, odds are, Europe doesn't either. Iran's receptiveness to a deal will really be the only way to tell.