Is A Summertime Attack Upon Iran Less Likely Now?
"We're going to give the diplomacy a little time here. And we're not going to react to everything the Iranian leadership says. Over the last couple of days, they have said lots of different things."
I know it runs contrary to the prevailing opinion on the center-left about Bush’s ultimate intentions in Iran, but I think it is now less likely that Bush will strike Iran before the midterms than it was just two weeks ago. When I last checked in with retired Colonel Sam Gardiner, he had lowered his assessment of the chances for a pre-election strike from 80-90% to 50-60%. Then we had the announcement by Condi of the administration’s willingness to talk to Iran directly but only if Tehran suspended its program ahead of time, a sure nonstarter.
Some in the center-left, with sources they cannot name yet, have told me that the announcement last week makes a summertime pre-election strike more likely than it was before, but I haven’t seen those reports and will defer to those people when the sources finally allow those center-left bloggers and news reporters to go forward with their views. Until then, let me put forward a few things of my own.
First, the administration planted stories in both the New York Times and Newsweek over the weekend about how Condi had crafted the new opening to Iran all herself and sold Bush on it. I read the Times story and came away with the impression that someone inside the Administration really wanted to convince David Sanger that Bush doesn't want to be left with only the military option, and would prefer not to even go down that road. Sure, that could be a renewal of the strategic communications effort to mislead the media into thinking that Bush is being the reasonable statesman here before he goes with a preordained decision to bomb.
But it appears that there is also an effort to seed the media with multiple stories of how Condi cooked up the diplomatic effort on her own, was able to overcome the Cheney/Rummy/Bolton cabal, and was able to handle and steer The Decider into a diplomatic Third Way. Condi's spin unit is working at full throttle, no doubt with the help of Karen Hughes. Some of this is a slap at Colin Powell to boot, as this theme presents Rice as someone with more clout and a level of trust and comfort with Bush that Powell never had. If she fails now, all that work goes down the toilet.
But there is another dynamic in the background now. Cheney and Bolton are waiting for her to fail. The woman has bitten off a lot and is under a lot of pressure to produce here. Unlike the earlier situation when Bush didn't really care if Powell was the lone voice for diplomacy, would Bush let Condi fail? She will do anything to show herself as succeeding where her "mentor" failed, by defusing a pending war with a member of the "Axis of Evil" while not giving Cheney/Bolton/Rummy a chance to say "we told you so." The truth is that Condi is now fully invested in solving Iran without war.
The net result of these stories in my mind is that the administration wants us to think they are committed to weeks of back and forth with Tehran over the summer in an attempt to work with others and get Tehran to be reasonable, and to deal with the occasional BS from Tehran without letting it sidetrack the effort to negotiate this. I don't get the sense here that they are leaving themselves any room for a sudden "OK, forget it; we'll have to bomb" turnabout at any time during the summer.
From all this, I now think that the chances of a pre-election attack are less than 50-50, and if there is one, when? An October attack would look too obvious for its intended effect, wouldn't pass the smell test with the voting public, and the GOP would get killed in those swing districts and competitive Senate races. Attacking in August, while Congress in recess, would rub salt in the wounds and force even GOP incumbents to rant about Bush making Congress seem irrelevant, or risk their Democratic challengers clubbing them to political death as irrelevant rubber-stampers. So that leaves September, again, if it happens before the election.
And one last thing: I also think that the new Iraqi government’s growing irritation at Bush and Rumsfeld's irresponsibility plays a part in any newfound desire for a nonmilitary solution. Things aren’t going as planned in Iraq, there is still a split in the Parliament over the Interior and Defense ministry positions, the Prime Minister doesn’t trust us on Haditha or any of the abuses, and the security situation doesn’t allow us the luxury of thinking we can draw down troops for another adventure. Plus, I am convinced that given Maliki’s predisposition against us now, any strike against Iran would yield an immediate “get out now” demand.
From yesterday's Meet the Press:
MR. RICHARD ENGEL: (Foreign language spoken) Would you support American military action against Iran launched from Iraqi territory?
PRIME MINISTER NOURI AL-MALIKI: (Through translator) Iraq will not be a platform for any military action against its neighboring countries, including Iran, because such action would drag the region, and Iraq, into catastrophes.
We cannot strike Iran now without losing control over Iraq, plain and simple.