Daniel Drezner has a long post examining whether the Bush Administration is planning to "to roll out a campaign for war with Iran in the week after Labor Day". Drezner quotes Barnett Rubin as saying:
Today I received a message from a friend who has excellent connections in Washington and whose information has often been prescient. According to this report, as in 2002, the rollout will start after Labor Day, with a big kickoff on September 11. My friend had spoken to someone in one of the leading neo-conservative institutions.
Arnaud de Borchgrave is also quoted as saying:
After a brief interruption of his New Hampshire vacation to meet President Bush in the family compound at Kenebunkport, Maine, French President Nicolas Sarkozy came away convinced his U.S. counterpart is serious about bombing Iran's secret nuclear facilities. That's the reading as it filtered back to Europe's foreign ministries.
Readers of Pajamas Media probably know that I'm engaged in a low-key debate with Michael Ledeen over whether it is desirable to push for regime change in Iran now. For the record, Ledeen does not advocate using primarily military means to overthrow the Ayatollahs. He argues that Iran has had a long record of belligerence against the US and "it’s time for us to fight back … using political and economic weapons, not military power."
Neither Drezner, Rubin, Packer nor de Borchgrave assert that the administration is actually going to war with Iran after Labor Day. What they charge is that a serious effort to make it a serious policy option (e.g. "sell the war") is going to be made by the Administration and its neoconservative allies after Labor Day. The distinction may seem pedantic, but going to war with Iran and embarking on a political campaign to convince the American public that Iran is a clear and present danger are two fundamentally different things. Going to war after Labor Day is probably ill-advised, but asking the question of whether America should eventually respond forcefully to Iran is probably not.
Overthrowing Iran is likely to prove a tough challenge and it should not be undertaken without sufficient consideration, preparation and without building a broad bipartisan consensus over its desirability. My disagreement with Michael Ledeen really centers on this: I am not entirely sure, as he seems to think that Iran is self-evidently in a "pre-revolutionary situation" which a comparatively slight effort can push into a full-blown uprising against the Ayatollahs. Taking on Iran will be hard and will therefore require preparation before irrevocably committing to it.
It is entirely appropriate for the Administration to remind the public of all the warlike acts the Islamic Republic has inflicted on the United States and entirely legitimate to ask whether they should be paid in their own coin. If nothing else, raising the subject will provide an chance for all those opposed to point out the reasons against it. And their arguments will be considerable because many potential questions about initiating regime change in Iran are currently unanswered. Some of these questions are: does the US have adequate unconventional and conventional forces? Who exactly will constitute the core of the new Iranian successor regime, assuming the current one is deposed? How will minorities, who comprise nearly half the population, be kept within the Iranian successor state? Will Iran break up and collapse into civil war if the existing regime is overthrown? What is the likelihood that neighboring countries will counter-intervene in the same way that they have done in Iraq? And so forth.
I am not so sure it is correct to say, as Daniel Drezner says in another post, "please, I beg you, just stop worrying about Iran. Worry about other things instead." Iran is not something you can just wish away because not only does it have a long history of attacking the US, it is currently engaged in combat operations against the US and Western interests in Iraq and Lebanon. And unlike Saddam's Iraq there is no serious question that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons and indeed, is on the verge of building them. This does not necessarily mean the appropriate response to the Islamic Republic's actions is war. Or even an immediate campaign of destabilization as Michael Ledeen suggests. But surely if even Barack Obama can say that Iran constitutes:
then it is not rational say 'let's not bring up that subject again.' Because if there is any lesson to be derived from the lead-up to Operation Iraqi Freedom it is that all too many subjects were not brought up at all.
the greatest strategic challenge to U.S. interests in the Middle East in a generation. Iran supports violent groups and sectarian politics in Iraq, fuels terror and extremism across the Middle East and continues to make progress on its nuclear program in defiance of the international community. Meanwhile, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has declared that Israel must be 'wiped off the map'
It may actually be useful to let Iran know that one major American political party is thinking about responding forcefully to the Ayatollah's challenges. That may have a deterrent effect and actually make war less likely. Attacking Iran may be the wrong response. But clearly it is a legitimate subject for public policy debate, one that should presumably give its opponents an opportunity to put forward their own alternative policy.
One of the worst things about the current War on Terror is that no broad bipartisan consensus exists on what strategy to follow. Six years after 9/11 there seems no agreement on who the enemy is and where his center of gravity lies. Is it in bringing Osama bin Laden to trial? In persuading Israel to make concessions to Palestine? In bringing Democracy to the Middle East? Should America even be at war at all or is it better to treat terrorism as simply another form of organized crime?
The question of Iran is better dealt with in public debate than in closed councils. As long as only a debate over possible war, and not war on Iran itself breaks out after Labor Day it will probably be a good thing.