It would be ironic if the professorial Barack Obama launches a military attack when his supposedly cowboy predecessor George W. Bush declined to do so. I remember attending meetings of conservative columnists with Bush in which his words and body language convinced me he would not order the bombing of Iran.
Others were not so sure. The December 2007 National Intelligence Estimate was clearly a bureaucratic attempt to prevent Bush from attacking in his last 13 months in office. It declared on its first page that "in fall 2003 Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program," while conceding in a footnote that "uranium conversion and enrichment," the most difficult part of a nuclear bomb project, was continuing.
The fact is that Iran has been at war with the United States since 1979, when it seized and held our diplomats for 444 days -- an act of war under settled principles of international law. Few in the United States then wanted to regard it as such (though Sen. Pat Moynihan said we should "bring fire and brimstone to the gates of Tehran").
Later the mullah regime sponsored the 1983 attack on our Marine Corps barracks in Lebanon and attacks on our soldiers in Iraq -- more acts of war. Six presidents have chosen not to retaliate for reasons of prudence that have much to commend them. War with Iran would be a terrible thing. But one can also believe, as the UAE ambassador incautiously said, a nuclear-armed Iran would be even worse.
Joe Klein may be right that "this low-level saber-rattling" he describes may be "simply a message that the U.S. is trying to send the Iranians: It's time to deal." Walter Russell Mead may be right in saying "there's a possibility that (Obama) will flinch." But I take it seriously when these two non-hawks say Obama might bomb Iran. LBJ would have taken it seriously, too.