The confrontation over the Iranian nuclear program highlights important difference between poor autocracy and affluent democracy: responsibility. Poor states do not offer their citizens a significant safety net or even security, and people there are used to responsibility: for themselves, their families, and ultimately for their country.

Not so with affluent states. Expensive law enforcement provides decent security, and welfare guarantees a level of life well above the safety net. People call the police after quarrels with neighbors and seek unemployment benefits rather than new jobs. States usurp responsibility for people’s lives, and people gladly accede. States increase their power over their subjects, and the subjects soothe their infantility.

People resent coercion and oppose traditional military totalitarianism. Smart states impose totalitarianism courteously, taxing and redistributing, attending to their subjects’ minute needs: Huxley’s Brave New World scenario. Iranians might revolt against their government; modern Americans – never.

The disease of irresponsibility is contagious and affects governments. The US, the superpower and the world’s only military power, tries to build international consensus over sanctions against Iran. Does the US need Russian military cooperation? Does it fear Russian military retaliation on behalf of Iran? Could WTO-aspiring, dollar-addicted Russia afford economic or diplomatic confrontation with the US? The US is fully capable of dealing with the Iranian nuclear threat, but is afraid to shoulder the responsibility.

Sham democracy is the perfect social order for the elite. Democracy disperses personal responsibility but allows the government to control society by influencing the media, twisting official information, and exploiting the credulity of the people who have to believe the government if they want to abandon personal responsibility. The US government wants to apply the democracy of convenience to international relations. That worked in Iraq where the US drew dozens of negligible countries into the coalition. In the case of Iran, international democracy won’t work.

Iran took the responsibility to develop nuclear weapons in defiance of the international community. Now it is America’s turn to be responsible and stop the nuclear program without appealing to other countries.

Talk of sanctions against Iran is absurd. Iranians already have the necessary know-how. Even if the travel ban is effective it won’t stop local scientists from pushing the Iranian nuclear program forward. Freezing Iranian assets won’t do. Iran would rather suffer a few more months to finish developing a nuclear bomb, then blackmail the US into negotiations. Iran will not threaten to bomb America or Israel but rather to provide a nuclear shield to rogue regimes and organizations, notably Hezbollah. True, the Iranian shield’s credibility suffered when Iran shrank from letting Hezbollah use long-range missiles in the 2006 war with Israel. The threat of nuclear proliferation, even diluted by low credibility, will be enough to force US concessions.

It’s too late for sanctions. The US must act.