For the first time in 27 years, the Iranian government has transmitted an official letter to a US president. Though the timing of the letter strongly indicates that it is designed to block UN Security Council action against the Iranian regime, it should have the opposite effect. The 18-page letter was sent just as foreign ministers from the Security Council's five permanent members were meeting to discuss Iran. Though the Iranians imaginatively describe it as offering "solutions" to world problems, The Washington Post gave a more accurate summary, reporting that it "[argued] that liberalism and democracy had failed, and criticized the United States over a host of issues ranging from the invasion of Iraq to its support for Israel." "Liberalism and Western-style democracy have not been able to help realize the ideals of humanity," the Associated Press quotes the letter. "Today these two concepts have failed. Those with insight can already hear the sounds of the shattering and fall of the ideology and thoughts of the liberal democratic systems." Touching only indirectly on the nuclear issue, the regime claims to be mystified as to why "any technological and scientific achievement reached in the Middle East region is translated into and portrayed as a threat to the Zionist regime." Perhaps Iranian calls to "wipe Israel off the map" have something to do with this. Even as it tries to portray itself as extending an olive branch, the regime cannot resist lapsing into barely-concealed threats: "How much longer will the blood of the innocent men, women and children be spilled on the streets, and people's houses destroyed over their heads? Are you pleased with the current condition of the world? Do you think present policies can continue?" President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's letter, far from diverting the UN from its path toward imposing sanctions on Iran, should reenforce Western determination to confront this delusional regime. Through it make little sense when seen through the West's prism of nations acting in their rational self-interest, it has become abundantly clear that the mullahs are, ironically, on a crusade to confront the entire West and everything it stands for. Rather than seeking to avoid a "clash of civilizations," the mullahs seem to be relishing this prospect, and view every escalation in their own belligerence as helping to protect, rather than endanger, their regime. It was encouraging, in this context, to hear Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov claim this week that "all of us agreed that Iran must not have nuclear weapons." But three hours of talks among the permanent five Security Council powers failed to produce agreement on strategy. The US, France and Britain all reportedly want the UN to start proceeding toward binding sanctions under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter; Russia and China want to stay on the non-binding resolution track. It should be obvious at this point that even draconian sanctions may not be sufficient to turn Iran away from its present course; it is all the more clear that non-binding resolutions are at best a waste of time. The choice before Russia and China is unmistakable: Will they join the world in an attempt to peacefully prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, or will the US and Europe be forced to move ahead without them? Though Europeans tend to bristle at suggestions that it might be necessary to take the sanctions campaign outside the UN, or that military force might be necessary, we can only hope that - behind closed doors - Europe and the US are together presenting these options to Russia and China as the only alternatives to effective UN action. As US Sen. John McCain puts it, "There's only one thing worse than the United States exercising the military option, that is a nuclear-armed Iran." The Iranian threat is the greatest challenge to world peace since the end of the Cold War and, before that, the rise of fascism in Europe and East Asia. There are many ways the much-stronger West can defeat this unpopular and belligerent dictatorship. There is only one way we can lose: by failing to lift a finger - diplomatic, economic or military - in our collective self-defense.