It seems that it is possible to insult a terror nation. The Iranians have their knickers in a twist over the fact that President Bush lumped them together with Iraq and North Korea.

The New York Times is reporting that the hard-liners in Tehran — those would be the mullahs — are welcoming Bush's threats, characterizing them as the drunken shouts of American officials. (The president quit drinking a few years ago, but in Iran that wouldn't matter.)

The way the Tehran hard-liners see it, Bush's threats are bound to unite their country. As one man put it, Bush will recreate revolutionary fervor in Iran.

Well, if they say so... but maybe not.

Maybe Bush's threats will awaken the Iranian people and force them to ask themselves whether they want to go through another war for the same cranky old mullahs who dragged them to martyrdom against Iraq? Do the people of Iran want their country dismantled by a bombing campaign — if it came to that — carried out by a country that is getting very good at bombing campaigns?

I would think the Iranian people might be wondering what America's beef with their country is all about. They're probably wondering why Bush is so upset with their government. Maybe they'll find out what their mullahs have been doing in training terrorists and funding Hezbollah, and making Iran a target in America's war on terrorism.

I was having this argument today with a friend who insists the way to deal with Iran is to buddy up with the moderates, and leave the mullah busting to them. Keep quiet, don't say anything to get anybody upset, just pretend we're the nice Americans who Iranians liked before we tried to shove the Shah down their throats. I said to my friend: Don't be a dope.

The way to deal with the mullahs is to call them on their game, let them know we know what they're up to, and let them watch what happens in Iraq... because that is definitely going to happen. (Heads up, Saddam.)

Then the Iranians will decide for themselves. Do they want to go on a war footing with a country which can only cause them endless grief? Or do they want to make nice and see — in the words of Rodney King — if we can all just get along?

They may be thumping their chest robes about war with America now, but after Iraq, I bet their attitude will be altogether different.

That's My Word.

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