The first GOP presidential debate was at best a bearable excursion. At worst, it was a celebration of disastrous foreign policy proposals by a pack of White House hopefuls. They simultaneously tried to assure a war-weary populace of a commitment to abandon the Bush administration’s policy of unilateral recklessness and soothe the Republican primary voters whose view on foreign relations is something like, “If you can’t locate it on a map, you’re better off blowing it up… just to be safe.”

When a question on Iran was posed to candidate Rudy Giuliani, he began by stating that an American attack on Iran would be “dangerous” and “provocative” (How sensible!), and followed by surmising that “the only thing worse would be Iran being a nuclear power.” (How vigilant!) Rudy went on to mention that Iran being armed with nukes would be horrific because “[Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad is clearly irrational.” (How astute!)

Such comments are frightening not merely because they imply an unavoidable military confrontation should Iran continue uranium enrichment, but also because they betray serious misunderstandings of the potential conflict, not uncommon in mainstream commentary on the issue.

The first mistake involves linking Iranian aggression with Ahmadinejad. Since Iran is an authoritarian theocracy, claims of Ahmadinejad’s power are seriously suspect, considering that (a) he was elected, (b) theocracy implies a clerical commander – which Mahmoud most certainly is not – and (c) the Iranian constitution gives Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei final say on all domestic and foreign matters. Yet rarely does an American leader utter Supreme Leader Khamenei’s name. Why is that? Perhaps it’s merely ignorance, or perhaps it’s because Ahmadinejad’s rhetorical shenanigans and bellicose bullying provide a perfect boogeyman in drawing up support for a bombing campaign. But everyone’s favorite tie-less Holocaust denier has never been able to swim above the depths of self-parody; Ahmadinejad’s always been more Sideshow Bob than Dr. No, undeserving of a place at the forefront of our concerns.

However, the most important question is whether an atomic Iran would indeed be worse than an attack to prevent nuclear acquisition. As bad as a nuclear Iran might be, an attack on the state is guaranteed to be awful. Iran has close ties to Iraq’s Shiite population, a percentage of which would most certainly retaliate. Radical Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has vowed to use his militia to assault American interests inside Iraq in response to a strike on Iran. An attack could also potentially draw the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council – an American-backed organization with Iranian inceptions and ties to Khamenei – into a confrontation with the U.S., not to mention the likelihood of Iran’s military striking at American targets in Iraq and Afghanistan. Such actions would likely draw America into a full-scale invasion of Iran, in what my intelligence indicates would be dubbed “Operation Shit Hits the Fan,” (or, “Operation Shiite Hits the Fan,” if you prefer your bad jokes to have lame puns as well) and would most likely involve your lazy ass getting drafted.

With that said, Iran possessing the bomb would be a destabilizing force in an already destabilized region, in a best-case scenario. However, Iran has never attacked another nation. Despite some bombastic rhetoric, there is little evidence that its leaders have been acting irrationally. Ironically, the current tensions between the two states could have most certainly been avoided. The Iranians cooperated with us in Afghanistan, and were rewarded with an “Axis of Evil” label only months later. They again approached the U.S. about cooperation in Iraq at the start of the war, and were more or less told to kiss Uncle Sam’s white American ass. Now we must negotiate with the Persian nation from a position of weakness rather than a state of strength, but negotiate we must. Diplomacy may not work, but our government should still try. George Bush doesn’t need to be Khamenei’s BFF, but America should at least open formal relations with Iran. At best, we will have avoided a war, and at worst, we will have wasted some time.