Is War with Iran Inevitable?

In the last six months, Americans have been treated to quite a spectacle: famous pundits and politicians hitting the sawdust trail to the mourner’s bench to confess, "Had I only known then what I know now, I would never have supported this war in Iraq."

Lots of folks are calling for Donald Rumsfeld’s head, but thus far, none of the pundits or politicians has forfeited his roost or declared himself unworthy of further public trust. They have all "moved on."

But it appears today President Bush is considering yet another "preventive war." Weekend reports by Sy Hersh in The New Yorker claim the Pentagon is planning air strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities with bunker-buster bombs, possibly tipped with nuclear warheads.

The White House is dismissing it all, and this may be just the rattling of B-2s to concentrate minds in Tehran on the need to negotiate on their nuclear program.

But the Bushites have also painted us into a corner. Vice President Cheney has said Iran will not be allowed to have a nuclear weapon. Sen. John McCain says, "The military option is on the table." And Israel is demanding that the United States stop dithering.

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: "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, hawkish Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz.

Moreover, we are drifting into confrontation. Russia and China will not support sanctions in the Security Council, and France and Germany are not going to support a preventive war. Nor is Tony Blair likely to play wingman to F-102 pilot George W. Bush again.

Thus, if Iran’s nuclear program is to be restricted to peaceful power, America may have to negotiate directly with Tehran. And if Iran’s program is so menacing it must be destroyed, the United States will have to go it virtually alone.

Reportedly, U.S. carrier-based aircraft in the Persian Gulf are already simulating bombing runs on Iran. And President Bush has restated his doctrine of pre-emptive strikes and preventive war in the new National Security Strategy released recently.

But this begs a question: As Congress alone has the power to declare war, and has not authorized war on Iran, where does Bush get the authority to threaten war on a nation that has not attacked us?

Instead of whining about how Bush "deceived" them and "lied" us into war with Iraq, why is Congress not debating whether Bush has, or does not have, the authority to take us into a new war?

By the way, where is Congress? Off on another vacation, for two weeks, after its exhausting labors in a session that is apparently going to set modern records for brevity.

A war with the United States would be disastrous for Iran. With an air force of antiquated F-4s from the Shah’s era and a navy of a handful of destroyers, submarines, and torpedo and missile boats, Iran would quickly be laid open to U.S. air and missile strikes. And with only half of Iran’s population of Persian extraction, Arabs, Kurds and Baluchis could exploit a war crisis in Tehran to break the country apart.

But if, in retaliation, Iran ignited the Shia against U.S. forces in Iraq and backed terrorist attacks across the Middle East, the entire U.S. position in the region could be in peril.

As for the price of oil, bet on $200 a barrel. Iranian mines and missile boats may be no match for U.S. fleets, but they could certainly threaten 200,000-ton tankers.

If Bush were bold enough, there are the makings of a strategic deal.

The U.S. goals are exactly what Bush got from Libya’s Khadafi: an end to terror and abandonment of all chemical, biological and nuclear weapons and programs. What Iran wants is a guarantee of its rights under the non-proliferation treaty to develop peaceful atomic power — from yellowcake to enriched uranium — an end to their isolation by the United States and U.S. guarantees against attack.

Both nations have an interest in not seeing Iraq disintegrate in a sectarian war that would separate Shia Iran from the Sunni majority in the Arab world.

If President Bush is truly confident that time is on the side of democracy and freedom, what does he have to lose by negotiating a cold peace with the mullahs’ Iran, a failed regime that does not dispose of 5 percent of the military or economic power of United States? We outlasted the British Empire, Stalin and Mao. Is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a bigger problem?

Perhaps, in Churchill’s words, it is time for jaw-jaw, not war-war.