So says Ari Shavit, an Israeli columnist for Haaretz, writing in the New York Times.  It’s all because Bush invaded Iraq and Afghanistan instead of mounting a “diplomatic campaign against Iran” (elsewhere described as a “political-economic campaign” of the sort directed against Libya’s nuclear project) after the attacks of 9/11.  So far as I can tell, he’s talking about a campaign to force Iran to abandon its nuclear weapons program (there’s no mention of regime change).  An ambitious international campaign, in which Bush should have enlisted the European Union, Russia, Sunni Arabs and Israel.

If we had done that, Mr. Shavit says, Iran would have been forced to abandon their nuclear project, the United States would have been spared the loss of life and wealth in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we wouldn’t be where we are today:  exhausted, traumatized, with “a limited attention span for problems in the Middle East.”

This has to go down as one of those ideas that only an intellectual could embrace.  The United States has just been attacked.  What was the president supposed to do?  According to Mr. Shavit, Bush should have said “we’ve got three thousand dead, there are smoldering buildings in New York and Washington, but not to worry, I’m going to talk to the Arabs, the Russians and the Europeans in order to force the Iranians to stop working on nukes.  I’ll get back to you with progress reports when and if I have news.”

Don’t attack al Qaeda.  Don’t invade Afghanistan or Iraq.  Just force Iran to stop developing nukes.

W would have been a laughing stock, an object of derisive contempt, a caricature of Jimmy Carter, who, after the Iranian attack on our Tehran Embassy in 1979, carried out Mr. Shavit’s policy recommendations to near-perfection.  Carter slapped sanctions on Iran, organized international support, and started negotiating.

It didn’t work out very well for him or for the United States.  In 1979, there was no doubt we’d been attacked by Iranians.  In 2001, nobody thought the Iranians were involved in the assaults in New York and Washington.  So why in the world would anyone think that a political/diplomatic/economic campaign against Iran was a proper response?