Austin Bay

NBC-TV's "Meet the Press" this past Sunday began the war talk of August. It's not quite the guns of August, 1914, but it ain't beanbag, either.

When "Meet the Press" asked Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen if the Pentagon had a plan for attacking Iran, Mullen replied, "We do." He added, "Military actions have been on the table and remain on the table."

Mullen tempered his response by emphasizing an attack is always an "option." Mullen kept his hypothetical saber stroke in a diplomatic sheath by emphasizing the U.S. regards military action to destroy Iranian nuclear capabilities as an "option."

Mentioning the overt war option lit a Beltway firestorm, but his tough statement is one of many made by Obama administration officials since January of this year. Rumors of covert options designed to damage the Iranian nuclear program have made the rounds for several years. CIA Director Leon Panetta, in late June, appeared on ABC's "This Week" and carefully hinted at covert war options.

Panetta was asked about Obama administration intimations that Iran had encountered "technical troubles" in its nuclear program. Were Iranians lousy bomb-builders, or was sabotage involved?

Panetta replied: "... I can't speak to obviously intelligence operations, and I won't. It's enough to say that, clearly, they have had problems. There are problems with regards to their ability to develop enrichment ... ."

In that same interview, Panetta siad that sanctions would "probably not" deter Iran's nuclear ambitions. Mullen's and Panetta's responses are links in a political gambit involving negotiations, economic sanctions, covert operations and (potentially) war.

Iranians know this. Yadollah Javani, identified as the political deputy of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), immediately responded to Mullen. In an official statement, Javani said Iran has prepared "a crushing plan to respond to any possible aggression of the U.S. or the Zionist regime of Israel." Javani dismissed Mullen's statement as a "psychological operation."

He's right -- it was. And his response is also calculated, as are the violent threats issued by Iran's Lebanese (Hezbollah) and Palestinian (Hamas) proxies.

Javani is also recycling radical bombast. This past February, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad vowed to deal "a telling blow against global arrogance." The blow proved to be hot air, but he got domestic political traction, which was his aim.

Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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