Are we going to war with Iran?

That is what the latest rash of stories seems to suggest. "Latest" because there have been many previous waves of attack-is-imminent warnings. For instance:

- one of several by the estimable Seymour Hersh, in April 2006;
- a blog entry, "Bush is About to Attack Iran: Why Can't Americans See It?" from January, 2007;
- from the BBC in February 2007;
- in Time in August 2007;
- countless other warnings during the build-up to the 2006 mid-term elections, arguing that the Bush-Cheney team would naturally order an attack as an "October surprise" to thwart a likely Democratic takeover of both houses of Congress.

Such reports were becoming common enough four years ago that the Atlantic then conducted a "war game" to examine the consequences of an attack, which led to this article arguing that an attack would be a strategic, tactical, and diplomatic disaster for the United States.

There is virtually no enthusiasm in the uniformed military for a strike on Iran -- among other problems, it would instantly make US troops in Iraq ten times more vulnerable than they are now. Indeed one recent report contends that uniformed and civilian officials in the Pentagon derailed an attempt by Dick Cheney to instigate a strike last year, by insisting that no decision be made "without a thorough discussion of the sequence of events that would follow an Iranian retaliation for such an attack." What a concept!

Now, the fact that a strike has been repeatedly predicted but has not occurred, obviously doesn't prove that it won't still happen. GW Bush remains the commander in chief for the next seven-plus months, and as a a technical matter Bush could probably get his orders obeyed.

Still, I have thought all along that an attack, while conceivable, is unlikely because it is so obviously self-destructive. To give the order would be rash and nuts, and at this point in a lame-duck administration rash ideas encounter more friction that in earlier days.

Re-stating the case against preemptive action is important. I've tried to do so several times. But if anything the case is stronger if it doesn't rest on assertions the strike is about to occur.*

Meanwhile, it the Congress wanted to be useful, it could go on record denying authorization and funds for use in a preemptive strike.** It would be a nice way to atone for the Kyl-Lieberman vote.

* I recognize the main counter-argument: that it's only because of timely past warnings that it hasn't happened yet. But the logic of the imminent-attack scenario is in fact that logic doesn't matter and that the Administration will bull ahead anyway. So to me the simpler and therefore more likely explanation is that the plans had never reached the critical point.

** Here the main counter-argument is the "crazy-man" strategy. Sometimes it is worth letting your adversary think you might do something reckless even if -- especially if -- you have no intention of actually following through. If this is the Bush administration's game, then they could be doing something right.