Probability of War: Declining

"MY . . . had a couple months where 'imminent war with Iran' in every other post, and now that there's an actual crisis with Iran that may involve a war starting in less than a week, there's nothing," thus Sprach Mr. Noah. There's not much to say. I think I've made it clear where I stand on the merits of unilateral military strikes as an approach to Iran's nuclear program (short version: don't do it) and I haven't seen any big new arguments out there worth talking about. The British hostage crisis is actually making me less worried that strikes will actually be forthcoming.

Precisely the sort of thing I was worried about was that having ratched-up the confrontation level, Bush would seize on the inevitable Iranian countermeasures as a casus belli. Even with his stepped-up rhetoric that really doesn't seem to me to be what's happening. News that "Blair's government appeared to be settling in for a long-term crisis but was still seeking a way to defuse it diplomatically, according to reports out of London," seems reassuring. The fly in the ointment is things like how Bush "rejected any 'quid pro quo' trade of Iranians held by U.S. forces in Iraq and ducked a question about whether military force would be justified to free the captured sailors" where we see once again that the president isn't interested in a serious diplomatic effort to resolve the outstanding bilateral issues in the US-Iranian relationship.

The White House seems to me to have decided to opt for paralysis, raising the confrontation level without intending to launch a war, attempting the "diplomatic option" but not attempting serious diplomacy. One is sometimes tempted to call this "the worst of both worlds" but it's actually quite a bit better than launching a war. One major problem with the Bush strategy is that it all-but-ensures that if the next president decides to strike a deal, he or she will have to do so from a weaker position. The other, of course, is that a policy of confrontation is going to breed these periodic crises and you never know when things might go too far.