Everybody relax. We are not going to bomb Iran.
The reason why we are not is obvious. But because it does not add more hype to an already overwrought story, it is ignored by the media. The reason is because in a president's first term in office, nothing is more important than reelection and, during his second term, nothing matters more than enhancing his place in history.
Despite any noble rhetoric about high-minded goals, those two motivations explain much about what Washington does as opposed to what it says.
Default rationale for war
Reelection, after all, was the real reason for invading a country that had no weapons of mass destruction, links to 9/11 or significant ties to al Qaeda. They didn't just get the reasons for war all wrong even though they got nothing right about what would happen afterward. And installing a corrupt Shiite theocracy can hardly justify the default rationale for the war — doing it for democracy. From the perspective of what the goal of a first term is, however, the mission was accomplished.
The fact that Americans will be paying for President Bush's $2 trillion imperial adventure for at least a generation leads to what is the focus of his second term. Because of the cost and the quagmire that Iraq has become, he is engaged in a desperate effort to be remembered for something else and save himself from going down as the worst president in American history. The steady stream of bluster about World War III and the ''serious consequences'' for Iran not bending to Washington's will should be seen in this light.
Career before country
Such statements are not the Washington equivalent of hidden messages from a serial killer who is implicitly telling the police to stop him before he strikes again. That is not what is being communicated, and besides, there is no adult supervision of the White House. A spineless Congress would not be roused to action by just one more impeachable offense even if it were initiating a war without congressional authorization. The four-star yes-men that populate the Pentagon would not revolt. Following the tradition of Colin Powell, they will not put country ahead of career.
Nor should one assume that the neoconservatives, who have never been right about anything, are again going to hold sway. It is true they are as eager as ever to fight to the last drop of someone else's blood. And the fact that Iran is four times as large as Iraq with three times the population escapes them. They are also unimpressed by statements from people like the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who pointed out that, with America at war in two Muslim countries, attacking a third in the region ''has extraordinary challenges and risks associated with it.'' The faux field marshals have no time for the faint of heart.
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The neocons were never anything more than a pseudo-intellectual facade for a domestic political strategy for reelection during the first term. Their advice won't be followed now because it does not serve the second term's goal. Launching another war with unlimited unintended consequences would only secure Bush's claim on being the most trigger happy and reckless leader the free world has ever seen.
What the Washington rhetoric is designed to do is to set the stage for the debate once Bush leaves office. After the U.S. constantly vilifying and threatening Iran, that country would be crazy not to pursue a nuclear program that could be one day used to produce weapons. That situation, along with the Iraqi disaster, will be dumped in the next president's lap. The White House has already calculated that it will be a Democrat. Anyone who has watched the Republicans debate can hardly think otherwise.
Those trying to burnish Bush's legacy will then waste little time in charging the next president with having failed to prevent Iran from going nuclear. President Clinton successfully used the pass-it-on strategy in failing to deal with terrorism. The argument will be made that our farsighted president anticipated the problem and warned about it, but that his successor failed to deal with it. Any history written somewhere other than Bush's belief tank at Southern Methodist University will probably see things differently.
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