Fred Kaplan wonders if the "prepare to deploy" order that's "been sent out to U.S. Navy submarines, an Aegis-class cruiser, two minesweepers, and two mine-hunting ships" means we're going to war with Iran. Sam Gardiner, former US Air Force Colonel, concludes that we are in a new report (availble in PDF) for the Century Foundation. Gardiner says the preparations for war "will not be a major CNN event." Instead, they "will involve the quiet deployment of Air Force tankers to staging bases" and "additional Navy assets moved to the region." Gardiner makes the point that while nobody's talking about a land invasion of Iran, significant elements in the government do have more ambitious goals than simple surgical strikes at Iranian nuclear facilities. Such strikes are very unlikely to actually resolve the perceived Iran issue, and there are administration figures who've convinced themselves that a sufficiently wide air target set will prompt regime change in Iran. One should note that the curious thing about air power is that the professionals involved in managing it have a longstanding, cross-national, and incredibly pernicious habit of massively and systematically overstating its efficacy in accomplishing all sorts of implausible things.
At this point, I think I need to bring up what one might call the Craziest Goddamn Thing I've Heard In a Long Time. This story came to me last week from an anonymous individual who I would say is in a position to know about such things. According to this person, the DOD has (naturally) been doing some analysis on airstrikes against Iran. The upshot of the analysis was that conventional bombardment would degrade the Iranian nuclear program by about 50 percent. By contrast, if the arsenal included small nuclear weapons, we could get up to about 80 percent destroying. In response to this, persons inside the Office of the Vice President took the view that we could use the nukes -- in other words, launch an unprovoked nuclear first strike against Iran -- and then simply deny that we'd done so. Detectable radiation in the area of the bombed sites would be attributed to the fact that they were, after all, nuclear facilities we'd just hit.
Now I rather doubt that's going to happen. Typically, Bush dials down the crazy factor a notch or two relative to what comes out of the OVP. Nevertheless, it's a sobering reminder that we have genuine lunatics operating in the highest councils of government at the moment. It's an extremely dangerous situation.
Matthew Yglesias is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.