It seems almost incredible after the catastrophe of the Iraq war, but the signs are growing that the Bush administration wants to do it all over again - this time to Iran. Just as in the runup to the invasion of Iraq, the Washington air is thick with unsubstantiated claims about weapons of mass destruction; demonisation of the country's president has reached bizarre proportions; intelligence leaks about links with al-Qaida and attacks on US and British targets are now routine; demands for war from the administration's neoconservative outriders are becoming increasingly strident; the pronouncements of George Bush and his vice-president, Dick Cheney, are turning ever more belligerent - and administration sources claim that the British government is privately ready to play ball.I do not accept his premise that the war in Iraq has been a "catastrophe." To make the statement shows either a profound ignorance of warfare or an intent to deceive. The war in Iraq has been difficult, but it is turning into a profound defeat for al Qaeda and has turned teh Muslim world away from that evil organization as they witnessed its deliberate mass murder of non combatants. Where liberals go wrong is they project al Qaeda's guilt on the US for opposing it.
You might imagine after invading and occupying Afghanistan and Iraq at such huge human and strategic cost, an attack on another Muslim country would be the last thing on the US president's mind. But the drumbeat of war has been unmistakable since the summer, when Bush declared he had "authorised our military commanders in Iraq to confront Tehran's murderous activities", and the administration let it be known that it was preparing to brand Iran's Revolutionary Guards a "terrorist organisation".
Last month Bernard Kouchner, the hawkish new French foreign minister, insisted that "we must expect the worst" and "the worst is war" - while Mohamed ElBaradei, the UN's chief weapons inspector in charge of overseeing Iran's nuclear programme, warned against the "neo-crazies" pushing for an attack after 700,000 had died in Iraq on "suspicion that a country has nuclear weapons". Meanwhile, Israel's recent air raid on Iran's ally Syria has been widely interpreted as, at least in part, a power play aimed at Tehran.
This week John Bolton, the former US ambassador to the UN, used the Tory conference to call for an attack on Iran, as leaks to the US press about war preparations continued. Newsweek reported that Cheney had been discussing the possibility of encouraging Israel to launch missile strikes at an Iranian nuclear site in order to provoke Iran into "lashing out", and open the way to a wider US assault. And in the New Yorker magazine, the investigative writer Seymour Hersh reported that in a videoconference this summer Bush told the US ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, that he was thinking of attacking targets in Iran, and the British "were on board".
He is also wrong to claim that the Bush administration is beating the war drums on Iran. If anything they have been committed to giving the futility of diplomacy with the religious bigots too much of a chance. The drum beats are coming from Democrats and others who see the danger and the need to respond to it. Nor will a military strike necessarily be a catastrophe for our interest. Such a strike must be one that destroys not just Iran's nukes but its ability to project power and make war. It must make them clearly defenseless, by destroying their war making machinery. Since the US has no intention of occupying Iran, other infrastructure targets that will hamper the religious bigots who run the country can also be targeted. The destruction of some infrastructure targets should occupy their efforts for some time, making it more difficult for them to lash out.