The Bush administration claims to have a way to deter the militant theocracy of Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons — and thwart its ambition to bring “death to America.” Washington’s plan aims to pressure Teheran, financially and psychologically. The idea is to cut off Iran’s nuclear program from banks and businesses in other nations, and to undermine the confidence of Iranian officials. The right amount of pressure, we are told, can induce Teheran to give up its nuclear program.

In fact this policy is a pathetic sham. It is a cover-up for Washington’s abdication of the responsibility to protect American lives.

When you consider the plan in detail, it is incredible that anyone thinks it could thwart Iran. The financial “pressure” so far includes a prohibition on the Iranian Bank Sepah from completing transactions in U.S. dollars. That bank is “the financial linchpin of Iran’s missile procurement network,” according to a Treasury Department official. The ban means Bank Sepah can no longer facilitate sales of oil in dollars — but Teheran has announced that it is now selling oil in euros.

To extend its financial “pressure” overseas, Washington hopes to persuade foreign governments, international banks and companies not to lend Iran money or sell it technology or nuclear expertise. This entails groveling before the likes of France and Germany, keen appeasers of Iran, and Russia, which gutted the already toothless U.N. sanctions against Iran. Even if some companies or countries, like Japan, agree to reduce some of their trade with Iran — the regime is about to open a brand new Russian-built reactor believed capable of producing weapons-grade nuclear material, and apparently begin industrial-scale efforts to produce uranium.

Washington’s scheme also calls for undermining the self-assurance of Iran’s zealous leadership by responding “firmly” to Iranian hostility. In one notable case, four Iranian officials were detained in Iraq on suspicion of abetting insurgents, but after protests from Teheran and Baghdad, the officials were promptly released. Preposterously, this catch-and-release scheme is allegedly “precisely the type of thing that will chip away at their confidence,” as one European diplomat approvingly confided to the New York Times. Recently, U.S. forces detained other Iranian operatives (releasing some of them) and raided an Iranian consular office in Iraq. While our troops are now permitted to kill Iranian operatives in self-defense, these measures, in sum, are but pinpricks.

How could such a feeble policy fail to encourage Iran’s belief that it is free to pursue its hostile goals with impunity?

This plan is not some mistaken or naive attempt to deal with Iran. It is an evasion of Iran’s nature and goals — an evasion of the need to eliminate the Iranian menace.

Iran’s nuclear quest (like its funding of insurgents who slaughter our troops in Iraq) is just the latest in a series of hostilities stretching back to the 1979 invasion of our embassy. To protect American lives, we must recognize Iran as an enemy stained with U.S. blood and assert ourselves militarily to make it non-threatening. This does not mean an Iraq-like crusade to bring them elections; it means protecting U.S. lives by destroying Iran’s militant regime. But that is precisely what our leaders refuse to do.

Washington has resigned itself to the emergence of a nuclear Iran (and an endless insurgency in Iraq), because our leaders do not believe we have the moral right to stop it. To do that would be self-assertive: it would mean putting America’s interests first. Today’s prevailing ethical standard condemns such action as selfish, and therefore immoral. Washington’s moral premise rules out as illegitimate the dedicated pursuit of American self-defense. But wishing to evade the self-destructive implications of their moral principle, our leaders concoct a plan that creates the illusion of their commitment to our defense.

The squeeze-Iran policy is a ruse that must be repudiated as impractical because immoral. We, the people of America, have a moral right to pursue our happiness in freedom. We owe it to ourselves to demand that our government actually fulfill its obligation to defend our freedom — not merely pretend to.