For most politicians and pundits, it was just like shooting ducks in a barrel. Rarely has an international event united so diverse a group of writers and power-brokers in revulsion. The cause of all this unanimity was the Holocaust-denial conference sponsored by the Islamic Republic of Iran and its irrepressible President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It was the sort of freak show that no rational person could defend. The assemblage of Islamist hate-mongers and Western anti-Semites (accompanied by a handful of rogue lunatic ultra-Orthodox "rabbis") earned its hosts a level of international opprobrium that's rare for a Third World country. Condemnation came from just about every corner of the civilized world. From coast to coast, bipartisan and interfaith coalitions lined up to keep alive the memory of the Six Million, as well as to flay Iran. All of which is well and good. But there is also a bit of bad news about the indignation that the Holocaust-denial meeting has generated. As much as we can take satisfaction in the negative press attention devoted to Iran, it also needs to be said that if some huffing and puffing about Ahmadinejad's mad hutzpa is as far as our Iran policy will go, then we're in big trouble. Unless the same people who were eager to take a shot at Iran are willing to put their support behind a decision not merely to isolate it but to encourage action - up to and including force - to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons, then it is only Ahmadinejad who will have the last laugh. For the religious oligarchy that controls Teheran and its irrepressible front man, its Holocaust campaign isn't an aberration. Nor is it unrelated to its policy goals. Its purpose in promoting denial rests primarily on its wish to delegitimize the State of Israel and demonize the Jewish people, whom its propaganda machine routinely accuses of being the oppressors of the world. As Yigal Carmon, the head of the Middle East Media Research Institute that monitors the Arab and Islamic world, as well as publishes translations from such media on its Web site (www.memri.org), has written, Ahmadinejad's goal is no mystery. If - as the Iranian insists - Iran wishes to "wipe Israel off the map," it must be preceded by the same sort of campaign of incitement and hatred of Jews that was the harbinger of the Holocaust. "In order for Ahmadinejad to bring his plans to fruition, however, he has to demonize the Jews and the State of Israel," said Carmon at a symposium on the subject given at Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and museum. "Demonization is a necessary precondition to genocide." Iran's openly stated objective is not merely to thumb its nose at the pieties of the West or to raise Jewish blood pressure. It wants to murder millions. INAPPROPRIATE analogies to the Nazis are used far too often, but this is one case where it's hard to argue that the terms don't apply. It's true that Iran isn't as powerful as Nazi Germany. But we may be only a few years away from a situation where Iran's genocidal intent will no longer be merely a theoretical possibility. And though obvious differences exist between Nazism and the extremist version of Islam that Iran's Shi'ite rulers champion, the role of the despised Jew in both of their worldviews remains striking. Ironically, the clownish nature of the denial conference and the prominent presence of bizarre personalities, such as former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, may serve to undermine the resolve to resist Iran. Few seem to take them seriously. In the 1930s, both Adolf Hitler and his lesser dictator buddy, Benito Mussolini, also struck many otherwise right-thinking individuals in the West as more a source of comedy than menace. Only too late did most people realize that the buffoonish bullies ridiculed so accurately in Charlie Chaplain's film The Great Dictator were actually capable of mass murder. All of which leads us to ask whether those now in a position of power in the West understand the threat, and whether they are willing to do something about it. There has been some fine rhetoric about Iran and the need to stop it coming from the Bush administration, but the White House's ability to lead on this issue is hamstrung by the conflict in Iraq. Most Americans are no longer willing to discuss "weapons of mass destruction," such as the ones Iran covets, because of the association the issue has with Iraq. The bloody stalemate in Baghdad that has so soured opinion on the war leaves little room for rousing the public to back action on Iran. The furor over the denial conference also does not diminish the impact of the Iraq Study Group, led by former secretary of state James Baker, which had as one of its key recommendations an attempt to conciliate the Iranians while at the same time force Israel into dangerous concessions. These so-called "realists" are about as interested in confronting a genocidal threat coming from Teheran as the appeasers of the 1930s were to stop Hitler. Such "realism" in Europe will similarly spike any efforts to make meaningful sanctions against Iran stick. Even worse, Robert Gates, the new US secretary of defense, made it clear during his confirmation hearings that he opposed action against Iran, thus removing any doubt that there are no bullets in the gun that the West was trying to use to threaten the Middle Eastern nation. It's true that some are sounding the alarm. Both Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and Likud Party head Binyamin Netanyahu have been giving speeches describing the current position as analogous to 1938. Yet both men lost elections in the past year (for reasons that had little to do with their positions on Iran), and so will be in no position to do anything but talk for the foreseeable future. Some believe that it is possible to indict Ahmadinejad under international law for inciting genocide. It's a nice idea, and could help establish a legal record to aid the isolation of Iran. But anyone who thinks the United Nations or the International Court of Criminal Justice - institutions more interested in aiding the demonization of democratic Israel than in fighting Iran - will help this cause are dreaming. IT MAY well be that the real case of "denial" is our own refusal to take Iran and its genocidal intent seriously - not just their ravings about the Holocaust. With appeasement masquerading as "realism" about the war on terror dominating the discussion, getting people to concentrate on the Iranian threat may be too hard a sell right now. But if those who lined up to bash Iran this month don't realize that there is a connection between the Holocaust and the need to confront Ahmadinejad's drive for nuclear weapons, then all of their rhetoric will be meaningless. The writer is executive editor of the Jewish Exponent in Philadelphia. jtobin@jewishexponentcom.