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In the 27 years since the Iranian Revolution, the United States has launched air strikes on Libya, invaded Grenada, put Marines in Lebanon and run air strikes in the Bekaa Valley and Chouf Mountains in retaliation for the Beirut bombing.

We invaded Panama, launched Desert Storm to liberate Kuwait and put troops into Somalia. Under Clinton, we occupied Haiti, fired cruise missiles into Sudan, intervened in Bosnia, conducted bombing strikes on Iraq and launched a 78-day bombing campaign against Serbia, a nation that never attacked us. Then, we put troops into Kosovo.

After the Soviet Union stood down in Eastern Europe, we moved NATO into Poland and the Baltic states and established U.S. bases in former provinces of Russia’s in Central Asia.

Under Bush II, we invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, though it appears Saddam neither had weapons of mass destruction nor played a role in 9-11.

Yet, in this same quarter century when the U.S. military has been so busy it is said to be overstretched and exhausted, Iran has invaded not one neighbor and fought but one war: an 8-year war with Iraq where she was the victim of aggression. And in that war of aggression against Iran, we supported the aggressor.

Hence, when Iran says that even as we have grievances against her, she has grievances against us, does Iran not have at least a small point? And when Russian President Putin calls Bush’s America “Comrade Wolf,” does he not have at least a small patch of ground on which to stand?

Which brings me to the point. There is no reason to believe Iran wants war with us. If she did want war with America, she could have had it any time in the last 27 years. If she did want war with America, all the old ayatollah had to do was continue holding those American hostages after Ronald Reagan raised his right hand. He didn’t. As Reagan recited the oath, the hostages were clearing Iranian air space.

In all those years, Iran has never attacked the United States and has been tied to but one terror attack against us: the Khobar Towers 10 years ago. No evidence has been found that Iran had any role in 9-11, the first attack on the World Trade Center, the suicide attack on the U.S.S. Cole or the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.

Comes the reply. Iran was almost surely behind the bombing of the U.S. Embassy and Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1983 and the hostage-taking of the Reagan era. Iran supports Hezbollah and Hamas and plotted the bombing of the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, and Herr Ahmadinejad routinely promises the eradication of Israel.

But if he wants a war with Israel, he could have it tomorrow by launching rockets. If he wants war with America, Bush and Cheney will accommodate him. He has done neither.

Ahmadinejad is behaving like a man provoking us to hit him, but not too hard, so he can play the “victim” of U.S. “aggression” without winding up in the hospital or the morgue.

For while Iran’s regime might benefit from heroically enduring U.S. strikes to destroy its nuclear facilities – none of which is near producing atom-bomb material – a major war would be a disaster for Iran. Not only would the regime be denuded of modern weapons, it would be set back decades to where the Arabs, Azeris, Baluchis and Kurds might try to break the country up, even as Iraq is breaking up.

But this would be a disaster for the United States as well. For an attack on Iran would unify Persians in hatred of America, the way Pearl Harbor unified Americans. And a breakup of Iran could create a new archipelago of terrorist training camps across the Middle East.

What we are getting at is that there is common ground between the United States and Iran. Neither of us would benefit from a major war. Both of us benefit if there is a reliable flow of oil and gas out of the Gulf and Central Asia. Neither of us wants to see the return of the Taliban or rise of al-Qaida, which is anti-Shiite. In his 18-page letter, Ahmadinejad powerfully condemned the massacre of 9-11.

And Tehran must be having second thoughts about whether to go nuclear when that could mean Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt might follow suit, and the United States and Israel would put a hair trigger on their missile arsenals, and target them on Tehran.

Better to talk. To test the waters, President Bush might take up Ahmadinejad’s missive, manifest the same respect for Islam that he showed for Jesus of Nazareth, rebut his attacks on America and lay down what Bush would like to see in a future relationship with Iran.

We have much to talk about: terror, nuclear power, Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, oil, what we owe Iran and what Iran owes us.

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