The warhawks are softening us up for Romney’s foreign policy. I’ve seen two prominently placed examples in the last ten days, efforts to find a way around the fairly decisive national consensus against starting a war with Iran, or letting Israel do it and then coming in to clean up and finish the job. First David Rothkopf in Foreign Policy, who writes about a “joint U.S.-Israeli surgical strike” that might take only a “couple of hours.” Rothkopf cites a source “close to the discussions,” whom many have assumed to be his former college roomate, Israeli ambassador Michael Oren. Phil Weiss has the fascinating down low on how this piece led to a shakeup in the Israeli embassy with a less hawkish Israeli diplomat being demoted to Siberia. American officials denied that a joint surgical strike was under consideration.

Then Monday in the Wall Street Journal, Bret Stephens reassured readers that if Romney were elected “we won’t have another war in the Middle East.” Not even, he added “if President Romney orders Iran’s nuclear sites to be bombed to smithereens.”

Stephens apparently assumes his readers are sufficiently dense to believe that Iran would not respond if its nuclear sites were bombed to smithereens; i.e, no closure of the Gulf to shipping, no rockets fired into Haifa, no long delayed terrorism riposte. He presumably is aware that striking underground nuclear reactors would create major collateral damage, unleashing toxic plumes into neighboring cities, and killing or maiming as many as 70,000 Iranians according to one recent study performed by the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics. I would surmise that for Stephens, and for whoever leaked the limited strike scenario to Rothkopf, the maiming of innocent Iranian civilians is considered a collateral plus, because it would poison relations between the United States and Iran for a generation–to the benefit of our ties with America’s “only ally in the Middle East.” But it’s not clear that Americans want more blood on their hands, or desire the lasting enmity of the Middle Eastern nation with the largest middle class, modern tastes, and indeed, most latently pro-American values.

The War Party, Take Two–of which Stephens and Michael Oren are charter members– know full well that, after Iraq, the war they want can’t be sold straightforwardly again.    So they’re trying a little bait and switch. Not real war, heaven forbid. Just a little “surgical” bombing. To smithereens. We won’t feel a thing. Many will be watching next week’s debate to see if Mitt Romney makes these thoughts his own.