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An October Surprise?

President Bush says Iranians are behind the more lethal IEDs, the roadside bombs killing our troops in Iraq. Rumsfeld warns the Iranian Revolutionary Guard may now be in Iraq. Cheney says Iran will not be allowed to have a nuclear weapon. McCain says, “the military option is on the table.”

And Israel is getting impatient. Writes Yaakov Katz in the March 10 Jerusalem Post, “The United States has until now not done enough to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, a senior Defense Ministry official has told the Jerusalem Post …”

Katz quotes the senior man directly: “America needs to get its act together. Until now the [Bush] administration has just been talking tough but the time has come for the Americans to begin to take some tough action.” Only one person is quoted by name in Katz’s piece, the hawkish Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz. This tells me Mofaz is using Katz to send Bush a message: “Stop dithering and get off your duff on Iran.”

The official wants Bush to impose severe sanctions to shut down Iran’s economy to convince Iranians to get rid of their regime. But if sanctions do not work, bombs away. “This option may be needed but it should only be used as a last resort,” said the “senior official.”

But while Bush is pushing for Security Council sanctions, Russia and China are balking. France, Britain, and Germany may go along with diplomatic and mild economic sanctions, but there is no stomach there for air strikes. Thus, if Iran’s nuclear program is to be dismantled, the Americans will have to go it alone with Stealth and B-2 bomber strikes.

Or Bush will have to answer to the Israeli Defense Ministry.

While there seems no sense of urgency in Washington, the Bush Doctrine and Cheney ultimatum have painted us into a corner. Either Iran’s nuclear program is shut down, or the Bush Doctrine will have been defied by Tehran and Pyongyang, leaving Iraq as the Bush legacy.

All this has led to speculation that this summer or fall, Bush, his options having been exhausted, will order the air strikes.

What would be the benefits of such an October surprise?

Rather than appearing a retreat, Bush’s pullout from Iraq would look like that of a defiant gunfighter backing through the swinging doors of a Tombstone saloon with both guns blazing.

Bush’s rating could soar 20 points. Republicans would rally at the return of the 9/11 president. Democrats would be loath to attack a president who acted forcefully to remove what they themselves say is an intolerable threat. The neocons and Christian Right would hail Bush as the new Churchill. Bush would hold onto both houses in November, costing Democrats their best chance in a decade of recouping power.

What would Hillary do? Nothing but wait and see what the fallout was from Bush’s newest pre-emptive war.

And the risks? Iran could push its Shia allies to attack British and U.S. troops and send Revolutionary Guard “volunteers” in, which could mean a U.S. debacle, unless we responded with more American troops. Tehran could make us pay a price in blood in Afghanistan. Tehran could also send its agents into the emirates, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia to attack U.S. installations, setting the Near East ablaze and oil prices soaring to $200 a barrel, plunging the West into recession.

Thus a pre-emptive war on Iran, while a political triumph for the president this fall, could, like the invasion of Iraq, prove a long-term disaster.

To some of us, this would be another unnecessary war. For, according to the New York Times, Iran’s nuclear program is plagued by failures and Tehran could be five or ten years away from mastering the technology even to produce fissile material for one bomb.

According to the Washington Times, Iran’s clerical and political elites want no war with America and are moving to curb the power of President Ahmadinejad. As one Tehran editor told the Washington Times, “if they [the Bushites] keep piling on the pressure, Ahmadinejad will become a national hero. … Let the Iranians deal with him. If you leave him alone he will become a bankrupt politician within a year.”

Cal Coolidge counseled that when you see ten troubles coming up the road, sometimes the best thing to do is nothing because nine of them will fall into the ditch before they get to you.

Bush is the commander in chief, not King George. He has no power to launch U.S. air strikes on Iran, an act of war, unless Congress authorizes war. Before we wake up to an October surprise, Congress should do its duty and Rumsfeld and Rice should appear and make the case for a war some of us believe Iran neither wants nor threatens.

Forget the Feingold Resolution. Undeclared presidential wars are the real stuff of impeachment.

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