There were some things far more frightening last week than Halloween's small ghouls and goblins -- and the scariest of all is the Bush administration's seemingly inexorable march toward military confrontation with Iran.
What are they smoking back there at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.? The very idea is dumb as a fence post and best left to the biggest pied piper of what passes for neoconservative thought, Norman Podhoretz. Yet both President Bush and his able assistant, Vice President Darth Cheney, are marching to that tune and humming along lustily.
There is no crisis here and no earthly reason to manufacture one on short notice, except for the fact that in under 15 months the Bush administration will pass ignominiously into history. Then a new chief executive can begin dealing with two ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, a national debt nearing $10 trillion, a terrorist threat to America only made stronger by eight years of Bush and Cheney and a national economy trembling on the brink of recession.
As though that weren't a big enough mess to leave behind, like so much trash in an abandoned trailer home, these brilliant thinkers want to bequeath a third and far more dangerous war to whoever is unlucky enough to win the ongoing tussle for the right to be the next president.
There are two questions here: Why? And, why now?
Yes, the centrifuges are whirling away in Iran's deeply buried and widely dispersed nuclear facilities, enriching uranium that can be used to power electric generation plants and, it's true, can also be used to build nuclear weapons.
But most analysts say that even if Iran's ultimate ambition is to build a nuclear weapon, it will take them another five or six years before they get there. Some say even longer.
How about we take a deep breath and -- once we have an administration in power that believes that it is far better to talk, talk, talk than it is to war, war, war -- negotiate with Iran without all those preconditions so beloved by Bush and Cheney.
How about we do all we can to support the International Atomic Energy Agency and its goal of inspecting facilities like those in Iran to ensure that the product is used only for peaceful purposes.
If none of that works, we can count on one final fallback position: If and when Iran gets within reach of building a nuke, Israel will take out crucial parts of that system.
All of this argues against Bush and Cheney doing anything more than running their mouths and pretending to still be relevant, studly and in charge as they stumble blindly toward the finish line and history's harsh judgment.
The more thoughtful military and civilian advisors can rattle off a dozen reasons why an American attack on Iran at this juncture would be foolish in the extreme and risk setting the Middle East afire.
Just some of those reasons would include:
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Shutting down not only Iran's oil production but Iraq's as well, and possibly triggering Iranian retaliation against the oil production and shipping in other nations around the Persian Gulf. Are we ready for $300 a barrel oil?
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Putting 160,000 U.S. troops and another 125,000 U.S. and foreign contractors in Iraq at much greater risk, as neighboring Iran signals Shiite allies there to begin all-out war against us and sends in its own well-armed guerrillas to lead the attack. Our 250-mile main supply lines in Iraq run through the heart of Shiite-controlled southern Iraq, and they would be cut. If we think we have troubles now with the shaky Iraq national government in Baghdad, which has already snuggled up to Tehran, what would war with Iran bring?
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Risking confrontation with the newly oil-rich and energized Russian Federation and President Bush's ex-KGB soul-mate Vladimir Putin. Since Putin has his hand on the natural gas and oil pipelines that keep our presumed allies in Europe from freezing to death, it is wise to assume that any support for an American attack on his ally Iran would be slim to none.
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Assuming that any U.S. air war against Iran would not be enough by itself -- and such air campaigns seldom are definitive in modern history -- where would we find the ground forces capable of doing the really hard part? Our Army and Marine Corps are stretched to the breaking point maintaining the force level in Iraq and Afghanistan. We have no strategic reserves available to help secure our allies in the Persian Gulf, much less to mount any offensive inside Iran.
When you add it all up, you have your answer: No one in his or her right mind would believe that attacking Iran now makes any sense at all.
But that doesn't mean that Bush and Cheney won't do it.
There were a lot of reasons why a preemptive strike into Iraq based on flimsy and bogus intelligence and far too few troops made no sense, yet they did it anyway, with trademark arrogance and ignorance.
Be afraid. Be very afraid.
Joseph L. Galloway is a military columnist for McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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