The List

Cold Wars

A guide to the international conflicts playing out at the Winter Games in Vancouver.

THE SIX-PARTY TALKS ON ICE

The politics: North Korea's nuclear program has destabilized the Asian political scene for years. The six-party talks aimed at resolving the crisis -- between North Korea, South Korea, the United States, China, Japan, and Russia -- have continued intermittently, with no final, satisfactory result. The Hermit Kingdom regularly fires off ballistic missiles, enraging and scaring the interested parties, and has conducted nuclear tests to widespread international condemnation. And Barack Obama's administration has had no more luck than its predecessor in getting Kim Jong Il to play nice.

The Olympics: Women's speed skating may be a long way from the negotiating table. But every representative of the six-party talks competed in the women's speed skating 500-meter race on Feb. 16, and five of the six countries finished among the top 10 places. South Korean skater Sang-Hwa Lee won the gold, Beixing Wang of China took bronze, Japan's Sayuri Yoshii finished fifth, Heather Richardson of the United States placed sixth, and North Korean speedster Hyon-Suk Ko placed ninth. Russian skater Olga Fatkulina finished a disappointing 20th.

GEORGIA-RUSSIA

The politics: More than a year has passed since the August 2008 war between Georgia and Russia, but the two countries have hardly made up. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev recently declared Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili a persona non grata, which a Saakashvili spokesman dismissed as a "boring" pronouncement. Saakashvili, for his part, has warned of a new Russian invasion and compares himself to legendary British prime minister and anti-Nazi stalwart Winston Churchill.

The Olympics: The bitter arch-rivals are facing off in the not-very-aggressive event of ice dancing, with three Russian couples (Dmitri Soloviev and Ekaterina Bobrova, Maxim Shabalin and Oksana Domnina, Sergei Novitski and Jana Khokhlova) facing Otar Japaridze and Allison Reed of Georgia. The event is also worth watching to see if Shabalin and Domnina -- favored to win -- don the controversial, "Aboriginal"-inspired costumes they've taken to wearing recently. Ice dancing kicks off on Feb. 19.

SOUTH KOREA-JAPAN

The politics: Although relations are peaceful today, Korea and Japan are old rivals. Japan invaded, occupied, and colonized Korea from 1905 to the end of World War II, forcing more than thousands of women to serve as prostitutes ("comfort women") for the Japanese army, among other atrocities. More recently a dispute between the two countries over possession of the Liancourt Rocks, a small islet chain in the sea of Japan, nearly led to military confrontation in 2008. Japanese politicians have frequently angered Koreans -- along with the rest of East Asia -- by frequently visiting Tokyo's controversial Yasukuni Shrine honoring Japan's World War II dead.

The Olympics: The shaky political relations may not even compare to the deep rivalry between figure skaters Kim Yu-Na of South Korea and Mao Asada of Japan. Born only 20 days apart, they've skated against each other their entire lives (Kim ranks third in Time's list of "athletes to watch"; Asada is one place behind her in fourth). The competition heated up last year, when Kim alleged that Japanese figure skaters had attempted to interrupt her practice, and after video was discovered of Kim committing the same offense. Kim even wrote in a 2005 blog post that she had wished Asada had fallen down in a competition. Vancouver is the first Olympics for both, and while Kim (tied for highest-earning athlete at the games, making $8 million in advertisements last year) is the favorite, Asada could pull off an upset if she's able to land her triple axels. You can see them both in action on Feb. 23.

ARMENIA-TURKEY-AZERBAIJAN

The politics: Regional politics in the South Caucasus are dominated by linked historical disputes between Turkey and Armenia, and a more modern conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan (which is backed by Turkey). Turkey's refusal to label the deaths of more than 1.5 million Armenians killed by the Ottoman Empire during World War I as genocide (indeed, using the word "genocide" to describe the events remains illegal in Turkey) has long inflamed Armenian sentiment. Recently, the two countries have begun an on-again, off-again process of rapprochement, but they still lack official ties. Armenia and Azerbaijan are still at odds over Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnically-Armenian region inside Azerbaijan, over which the two countries fought a war from 1988 to 1994.

The Olympics: All three countries are competing in both the men's (Arsen Nersisyan, Armenia; Jedrij Notz, Azerbaijan; and Erdinc Turksever, Turkey) and women's (Ani-Matilda Serebrakian, Armenia; Gaia Bassani Antivari, Azerbaijan; and Tugba Dasdemir, Turkey) slalom and giant slalom skiing events. Armenia has never won a Winter Olympics medal, Azerbaijan has won three, and Turkey has won a relative treasure trove of 14. The relatively slow Serebrakian, an American with dual citizenship, is unlikely to take home Armenia's first medal. The events take place between Feb. 18 and 27.

MACEDONIA-GREECE

The politics: Hostility between the two southeast European countries centers on the seemingly arcane dispute over the country name of Macedonia, which Greece claims as integral to its own history and culture. Greece blocked both U.N. entry in 1990 and NATO entry in 2008 for Macedonia because Macedonia wouldn't change its name. An economic blockade imposed by Greece in 1990 was only lifted in 1995, when a compromise was struck, under which Macedonia would be allowed into international institutions under the name "Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" (FYROM). (One-hundred twenty countries, including the United States, have recognized the country's preferred name, "the Republic of Macedonia.") If you're wondering why Macedonia entered the Olympic stadium after Finland, rather than Lithuania, during the opening ceremonies, FYROM is why.

The Olympics: Macedonia and Greece are facing off in the men's (Antonio Ristevski, FYROM; Vassilis Dimitriadis and Stephanos Tsimikalis, Greece) slalom and giant slalom. In the women's 10-km free cross-country skiing event on Feb. 15, Greece's Maria Danou won the battle against FYROM's Rosana Kiroska, but neither fared well, finishing 73rd and 77th, respectively.

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The List

Who Wants to Bomb Iran?

Meet the men calling on Barack Obama to launch airstrikes against the Islamic Republic.

They're back! The "Bomb Iran" crowd is making a big return to the political center stage after months of puzzlement over what to do about developments in the Islamic Republic. Hawks such as Daniel Pipes and John Bolton are arguing that Iran is dead-set on its pursuit of a nuclear arsenal -- and point to developments such as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's announcement this weekend that Iran would enrich its uranium stocks to 20 percent to argue that diplomatic avenues have reached a dead end. The would-be bombers fear that the mullahs will leverage their nuclear capability to expand Persian influence through the Arab world and beyond -- and argue that the United States must do anything in its power, including the use of force, to stop them.

This movement had its heyday in neoconservative circles in 2006 and 2007, following Iran's official announcement that it had started to enrich uranium and the subsequent U.S.-led push in the U.N Security Council for additional sanctions. And who could forget 2008 presidential candidate John McCain's memorable "Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran" gaffe, sung to the tune of the Beach Boys' "Barbara Ann"? In the wake of Iran's contested election last June, pro-bomb pundits have argued that the popular unrest -- including the imminent anti-regime protests scheduled for Feb. 11, the anniversary of the Islamic Republic -- far from meaning the United States should hold back, presents a perfect opportunity to target the increasingly unpopular leadership of the Iranian regime. Needless to say, it doesn't appear that Obama will be taking their advice any time soon; administration officials have strongly suggested they prefer to deal with Iran's nuclear ambitions through diplomacy and sanctions.

The Iran hawks are supported by the Obama administration's old nemesis Dick Cheney, who noted in an interview with Fox News last August that he was "probably a bigger advocate of military action than any of my colleagues" in the Bush administration. Without further ado, here is FP's guide to this belligerent minority.

Daniel Pipes

Perch:  Director of the Middle East Forum, Hoover Institution visiting fellow

Money quote: "[Obama] needs a dramatic gesture to change the public perception of him as a light-weight, bumbling ideologue, preferably in an arena where the stakes are high, where he can take charge, and where he can trump expectations. Such an opportunity does exist: Obama can give orders for the U.S. military to destroy Iran's nuclear-weapon capacity." --Feb. 2, 2010, National Review

Justification: Pipes's argument was not exactly framed in such a way as to gain adherents within the White House. However, his cold-blooded political justification is enough to make Dick Morris or Karl Rove blush: He cites five polls suggesting a military strike against Iran possesses the support of a solid majority of Americans and posits that others would undoubtedly "rally around the flag," supporting Obama were he to unleash the bombers. Sarah Palin picked up this argument in an interview with Fox News on Feb. 7, claiming that a decision by Obama to declare war on Iran could boost his chances for re-election in 2012 -- though she incorrectly cited Patrick Buchanan as the source of the idea.

And lest Obama fear that this electoral masterstroke would devolve into an Iraq-style quagmire, Pipes assures us that the United States could limit itself to airstrikes and employ only a few boots on the ground, "making an attack more politically palatable."

John Bolton

Perch: Senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute; former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations

Money quote: "Those who oppose Iran acquiring nuclear weapons are left in the near term with only the option of targeted military force against its weapons facilities. Significantly, the uprising in Iran also makes it more likely that an effective public diplomacy campaign could be waged in the country to explain to Iranians that such an attack is directed against the regime, not against the Iranian people.... Military action against Iran's nuclear program and the ultimate goal of regime change can be worked together consistently." --July 2, 2009, Washington Post

Justification:  Although the unrest following Iran's contested presidential election this past June convinced many pundits that a U.S. military strike would be counterproductive, Bolton took the opposite tack: With Iran's hardliners "unmistakably back in control" following the first round of protests, he argued, the timing was ripe to convince the Iranian people that targeted airstrikes on Iran's nuclear facilities were the fault of their dictatorial government, and not a foreign power.

Notably, Bolton doesn't believe the Obama administration will do what he thinks needs to be done in Iran (nor, truth be told, was he sanguine that the Bush administration would listen to his advice in 2008). Instead, he's putting all his faith in Israel to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities, referring to the logic of an Israeli strike as "nearly inexorable."

Norman Podhoretz

Perch: Editor at large, Commentary magazine

Money quote: "In short, the plain and brutal truth is that if Iran is to be prevented from developing a nuclear arsenal, there is no alternative to the actual use of force -- any more than there was an alternative to force if Hitler was to be stopped in 1938." --June 2007, Commentary

Justification: Podhoretz, the author of World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism and one of the intellectual godfathers of the neoconservative movement, regards the showdown with Iran as the latest front in a "protracted global struggle" that has taken the United States from Baghdad to Kabul. In each case, he argues, the United States is defending itself from "Islamofascism" -- the intellectual cousin of communism and Nazism that threatens to overwhelm the United States and its allies militarily, and also erode Western values from within.

Podhoretz sees Ahmadinejad as occupying the revolutionary vanguard of this movement: The first step in the Iranian president's quest to transform the global balance of power will be to fulfill his promise to "wipe Israel off the map." From there, Podhoretz fears, a nuclear-armed Iran will attempt to establish its hegemony over the Persian Gulf -- and then extend its scope of influence into Europe. Finally, the coup de grâce: Iran will commit itself to neutering U.S. influence worldwide, and perhaps even attempt to fulfill its goal of "a world without America."

As in the struggle against Hitler, the only option presented to the United States when faced with an enemy of such sprawling ambition, Podhoretz believes, is the use of military force. A U.S. air campaign, he hopes, could set back the Iranian nuclear program indefinitely and also provide the political preconditions for the overthrow of the Islamic Republic -- a message that he also delivered in private meetings with President Bush. The only question, in his eyes, was whether Bush would summon the political fortitude to order the strike before he left office. As he wrote: "As an American and as a Jew, I pray with all my heart that he will."

Joshua Muravchik

Perch: Foreign Policy Institute fellow at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies

Money quote: "We must bomb Iran. It has been four years since that country's secret nuclear program was brought to light, and the path of diplomacy and sanctions has led nowhere.... Our options therefore are narrowed to two: We can prepare to live with a nuclear-armed Iran, or we can use force to prevent it." --Nov. 19, 2006, Los Angeles Times

Justification: Frustrated by the United States' inability to convince Russia or China to commit to a truly biting sanctions regime -- and despairing that Iran's hard-liners could ever be forced from power -- Muravchik believed the West's only remaining option was to destroy Iran's nuclear program before it could produce a bomb. Iran's possession of a nuclear weapon would allow the Islamic Republic to establish regional hegemony over the Middle East, pose an existential to Israel's, and erode what is left of the international nonproliferation regime, Muravchik feared. There was also the danger that Iran could "slip nuclear material to terrorists" -- and not only its clients, such as Hezbollah and Hamas, but also al Qaeda.

Muravchik also took to the pages of Foreign Policy to make the case that full-throated advocacy of a U.S. military strike against Iran was what neoconservatives needed to overcome the stigma that had accumulated around the movement in recent years.

Thomas McInerney

Perch: Retired lieutenant general of the U.S. Air Force

Money quote: "A military option against Iran's nuclear facilities is feasible.... President Bush is right when he says Iran cannot be permitted to have nuclear weapons. The prospect of leaders like Ahmadinejad, who advocates wiping Israel 'off the map,' with their hands on nuclear weapons is a risk we cannot take. Diplomacy must be pursued vigorously, but the experience with Iraq suggests there's little reason for optimism. Thus, a viable military option is imperative." --April 24, 2006, Weekly Standard

Justification: McInerney has put more thought into the actual details of a U.S. military strike on Iraq than most other analysts. In an interview with Fox News host Bill O'Reilly, McInerney laid out a two-pronged strategy, kicked off by "a powerful air campaign that will hit within 36 to 48 hours over 1,500 aim points" in Iran, including its nuclear development facilities, air defenses, and its Shehab-3 missile sites.

This would soften up the Islamic Republic for the second part of the campaign -- covert military operations designed to encourage Iran's population to rise up in rebellion. McInerney is enamored of the prospects for division presented by Iran's many ethnic minorities. Iran "is ripe for political discontent, and ripe for people to let the people have their country back," he argued. McInerney's plan raised consternation in liberal circles, who pointed out that he had suggested a similar plan in 2002 to topple Saddam Hussein's regime. McInerney, however, appeared undoubted by the U.S. experience in Iraq, countering that Operation Iraqi Freedom "was a brilliant campaign done in 21 days."

Max Boot

Perch: Senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations

Money quote: "If Israel's intelligence agencies can provide reasonable assurance that the Israeli Air Force can derail the Iranian program for, say, six years, then the case for action becomes inescapable. But if they can only delay Iran for six months, is it really worthwhile to risk all the consequences that would come from an air strike? Perhaps so; perhaps the loss of Israeli prestige and deterrence advantage from Iran going nuclear would be so great that even a symbolic strike is worthwhile." --July 2, 2009, Commentary

Justification: Following the post-election protests that rocked Iran last June, Max Boot echoed Bolton's remarks regarding the increasing attractiveness of an Israeli airstrike on the country's nuclear facilities. But it wasn't the first time that he called for a more aggressive policy toward Iran -- back in 2006, Boot laid out a plan to "do to Iran what the Iranians are doing to us in Iraq" by fomenting ethnic divisions within the country, and funneling weapons and money to anti-regime militias within the country. The only other option, in Boot's eyes, would be a U.S. airstrike -- a development that will become inevitable once the current policy of "half-hearted multilateral negotiations backed by toothless U.N. resolutions fails. (Or, rather, once its failure can no longer be denied.)"

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