Indeed, a few months ago, columnist Fareed Zakaria made that case by citing my writing in defense of deterrence in the early 1980s, at the time of the nuclear-freeze movement. And yet now, writes Zakaria, Krauthammer (along with others on the right) "has decided that deterrence is a lie."
Nonsense. What I have decided is that deterring Iran is fundamentally different from deterring the Soviet Union. You could rely on the latter, but not on the former.
The reasons are obvious:
1. The nature of the regime.
Did the Soviet Union ever deploy a suicide bomber? For Iran, as for other jihadists, suicide bombing is routine. Hence the trail of self-immolation from the 1983 Marine barracks attack in Beirut to the Bulgaria bombing last month. Iran's regime rules in the name of a fundamentalist religion for whom the hereafter offers the ultimate rewards. For atheist Soviet communists, such thinking was an opiate-laced fairy tale.
For all its global aspirations, the Soviet Union was intensely nationalist. The Islamic Republic sees itself as an instrument of its own brand of Shiite millenarianism - of the messianic return of the "hidden Imam."
It's one thing to live in a state of mutual assured destruction with Stalin or Brezhnev, leaders of a philosophically materialist, historically grounded, deeply here-and-now regime. It's quite another to be in that situation with apocalyptic clerics.
The classic formulation comes from al-Qaeda: "You love life, and we love death." Try deterring that.
2. The nature of the grievance.
The Soviet quarrel with America was ideological. Iran's quarrel with Israel is existential.
The Soviets never proclaimed a desire to annihilate the American people. For Iran, the very existence of a Jewish state on Muslim land is a crime, an abomination, a cancer with which no negotiation, no coexistence, no accommodation is possible.
3. The nature of the target.
America is a nation of 300 million; Israel, eight million. America is a continental nation; Israel, a speck on the map, at one point eight miles wide.
Israel is a one-bomb country. Its territory is so tiny, its population so concentrated, that, as former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani famously said, "application of an atomic bomb would not leave anything in Israel, but the same thing would just produce damages in the Muslim world."
In the Cold War, both sides knew a nuclear war would destroy them mutually. The mullahs have thought the unthinkable to a different conclusion.
They know about the Israeli arsenal. They also know, as Rafsanjani said, that in any exchange, Israel would be destroyed instantly and forever, whereas the ummah - the Muslim world of 1.8 billion whose redemption is the ultimate purpose of the Iranian revolution - would survive damaged but almost entirely intact.
This doesn't mean the mullahs will necessarily risk terrible carnage to destroy Israel. But it does mean the blithe assurance to the contrary - because the Soviets never struck first - is nonsense. The mullahs have a radically different worldview, grievance, and calculation of the consequences.
The confident belief that they are like the Soviets is a fantasy. That's why Israel is contemplating a preemptive strike. Israel refuses to trust its very existence to the convenient theories of comfortable analysts living 6,000 miles from its ground zero.
Charles Krauthammer is a Washington Post columnist.