LIKE the Democratic administration of Jimmy Carter, the Democratic administration of Bill Clinton is coming to the view that Iran is far more trouble than Iraq.
Iran was Mr. Carter's bete noire. Iran's seizure of American Embassy hostages set President Carter on a course of bitter confrontation with Teheran and may have cost him reelection to the presidency.
Iran was major trouble for Ronald Reagan too. When he became president, and Iran and Iraq were embroiled in a horrendously costly war, his administration proclaimed neutrality between them but in fact tilted toward Iraq, because Mr. Reagan too feared Iran as the greater evil.
In the administration of George Bush there was a shift. Iraq was the principal villain. Saddam Hussein became more bellicose than usual, invaded Kuwait, and was repulsed and humiliated by American and coalition forces in the Gulf war.
But Saddam, although still in office, is now hobbled and his capacity for international mischief curtailed.
Iran, by contrast, looms again as a significant fomenter of trouble worldwide.
President Clinton's Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, brands Iran an "international outlaw." Iran, in the State Department's view, is "the most dangerous state sponsor of terrorism."
Certainly Iran in recent months has been linked to incidents of terrorism and assassination in various countries. Last month an exiled Iranian opposition leader was gunned down and killed in Rome.
This follows assassinations of prominent Iranian exiles in other European countries, assassinations attributed to the Teheran regime.
Iranian officials recently reaffirmed their support for the death sentence against author Salman Rushdie, and an Iranian foundation increased the reward for killing him to more than $2 million.
President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt has warned against Iranian meddling in his country, scene of fundamentalist agitation and bombings, and threatened a military strike if Iran should attempt to base warships at the Sudanese Red Sea of Port Sudan.
The Egyptians have been traditionally sensitive to unrest in the Sudan and are particularly wary of Iranian training camps in the Sudan for Egyptian dissidents.
Meanwhile, although investigators are careful not to link the Teheran regime with the World Trade Center bombing in New York, there clearly are connections to fundamentalists who sometimes draw their inspiration from Iran.
The litany of what, in the Clinton administration's eyes, are Iran's misdeeds is a long one.
Iran is embarked on major military expansion. It is buying submarines from the Russians. An Iranian opposition leader, Mohammad Mohaddesin, revealed recently that the Teheran regime is negotiating with North Korea for the supply of 600-mile-range missiles.
The Iranians may be exchanging nuclear weapons data with the North Koreans too. The North Koreans are moving fast down the road to manufacturing a nuclear bomb, and there are persistent rumors that Iran is seeking similar capacity. The Iranians deny this and maintain their nuclear development program is strictly for peaceful purposes.
The Iranians are paying for their North Korean missiles with oil. They have also come with oil to the aid of another nation unfriendly to the United States - Cuba. The Iranians are boosting their purchases of Cuban sugar and are shipping badly needed oil to Fidel Castro. Mr. Castro's mismanagement of the Cuban economy has left it in precarious condition.
Meanwhile, the Teheran regime continues to accumulate an appalling record on human rights at home. The United Nations has just issued its 18th condemnation in 12 years of continuing rights abuses in Iran.
The UN Human Rights Commission cited the high number of executions in Iran, torture and cruel punishment, lack of due process of law, discrimination against the Baha'is, treatment of women, and restrictions on the press.
It is not difficult to see why this is a regime of which the Clinton administration is increasingly wary.