[Editor's note: I have been a follower of the Steve Jackson's Games corporate online forum for some years now. Recently, a conversation has been begun there that I'd like to add some outside commentary on. You can find the original conversation here.]
I believe there are a few key points that have been forgotten here:
1) Iran self-identifies as an "Islamic Republic". Its government is to a certain extent a representative democracy, albeit one whose candidates are all vetted and approved by the ruling Theocratic Guardian Council. In the late 1990's, that council was increasingly experimenting with permitting moderate, pro-western candidates to run and win elections. This was in response to thawing Western relations, and a growing educated, pro-Western, pro-secular young adult demographic within Iran itself.
This experiment with political moderation ended in 2002, with a return to hard-line, anti Western and pro-Ayatollah candidates, including current President Achmadenijhad. This backlash was almost certainly induced by President Bush's choice to include Iran in the "Axis of Evil."
2) President Achmadenijhad is not quite the nutcase that the Western and U.S. media portrays him as being. In nearly every instance where he has been demonized for threatening Israel (whose close relation to the U.S. is a matter much too large for this posting), a deeper inspection of the transcript of his remarks usually shows such threats in the context of a hypothetical attack by Israel on Iran. Responding to attack with a counter-attack, while damaging to world peace, is still usually considered the perogative of a nation-state.
3) Gas centerfuge enrichment of uranium is both a step towards development of nuclear weapons and a step towards a non-weapon nuclear power program. This sort of peaceful program is what Iran asserts it is pursuing (whether or not anyone believes it). Iran has been cooperating with the IAEA off and on, seeking the IAEA's certification that their program is peaceful. Unfortunately, with every period of saber rattling by the U.S., Western Europe, or Israel, Iran balks and halts its cooperation. It is entirely plausible that Iran is primarily intedning to move toward nuclear power, with the possibility of developing nuclear weapons as a reserve for if the believe themselves threatened with attack.
4) The current U.S. administration is the primary source of the claims that Iran is intending to develop nuclear weapons. As we saw in the run-up to the Second Gulf War, this same administration main any number of claims about Iraq's nuclear weapons program, a nuclear weapons program that -in retrospect- did not exist, and was asserted not to exist by the IAEA. In fact, as something of a snub to the U.S. and it's administration, the head of the IAEA was later named for a Nobel Peace Prize. In my view, the current Presidential administration (as of this writing, #43) simply does not have the credibility to make any sorts of claims.
So, the blustering in Iran's direction has the appearance of the consciuos villifying of an otherwise indifferent nation. That villification and following provocations are used to trigger a defensive response from that nation. Such defensive measures are used as a justification for further provocations, and as rationalization for already decided upon war plans. We saw all of this in 2003, and there is simply no reason to allow it to happen again in 2009.