As Americans anguish over how to extricate this country from Iraq without a disaster greater than what we now have, and without our friends suffering the fate of our friends in Cambodia and Vietnam, they had best brace themselves. This escalator is going up.
George Bush and his generals are laying out the case for a new war. And there has been no resistance offered either by a vacationing Congress or the major presidential candidates.
On CNN's "Late Edition" Sunday, Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, No. 2 commander in Iraq, said, "It is clear to me that (the Iranians) have been stepping up their support" for enemy fighters in Iraq.
"They do it from providing weapons, ammunition, specifically mortars and explosively formed projectiles. ... They are conducting training within Iran of Iraqi extremists to come back here and fight the United States."
Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch said his troops were following 50 members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, who have been crossing the border and training fighters in Iraq. The State Department is about to declare the Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization.
Earlier in August, President Bush directly charged Tehran with aiding Iraqi insurgents who are killing U.S. soldiers:
"I asked Ambassador Crocker to meet with Iranians inside Iraq ... to send the message that there will be consequences for ... people transporting, delivering EFPs, highly sophisticated IEDs, that kill American troops."
The EFPs are roadside bombs that penetrate Bradley Fighting Vehicles and Abrams tanks. They have taken the lives of scores of U.S. soldiers.
Whether Bush has made the decision to attack the al Quds training camps inside Iran, he has painted himself into a corner.
If he does not strike the camps, he will be mocked by the War Party as a weak commander in chief, too timid to use U.S. power to protect soldiers he sent into battle or to punish those killing them.
Thus, Bush must either announce that his diplomacy has worked, and attacks out of Iran have diminished or been halted, or he will have to explain why the Top Gun of the carrier Lincoln was too wimpish to do his duty by the soldiers he sent to fight.
Who is pushing for attacks on Iran? Israel and its lobby. Vice President Cheney. Sen. Joe Lieberman, who has been calling for air strikes on Al Quds camps for months. And a War Party facing lasting disgrace for having lied the country into an unnecessary war, and for having assured the American people it would be a "cakewalk."
The arguments for war on Iran are both strategic and political.
Israel is terrified Iran will end its nuclear monopoly in the Middle East and wants an all-out U.S. war on Iran to prevent it. The War Party fears Iran may acquire a nuclear weapon, which would inhibit U.S. freedom of action in the Gulf and convince the Arab states that the United States is yesterday and they must appease Iran or go nuclear themselves.
As for Bush and Cheney, if they go home without hitting Iran's nuclear sites, and Iran acquires a nuclear weapon, the Bush Doctrine will have been defied by the Ayatollah as well as Kim Jong-il, and their legacy will be a no-win war in Iraq.
The War Party is thus seeking an excuse to launch air strikes on Iran, as that would trigger Iranian counterstrikes on our forces. Then they will have their long-sought casus belli for U.S. strikes on Iran's nuclear facilities. First, the al Quds camps, then Natanz, Isfahan and Bushewr.
Initially, Americans might cheer the bombing of Iran, and Congress would head for the tall grass. But as U.S. strikes would be an act of war, rallying the Iranians behind the failing regime of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and igniting a long war the end of which we cannot see and the troops for which we do not have, there are powerful arguments against a new war.
Iran and the United States would both pay a hellish price, and Iran at least seems to recognize it. Both the Iraqi and Afghan governments say Iran is behaving as a good neighbor. There is evidence Tehran's nuclear program is faltering, or being curbed. Iran is said to be making concessions to U.N. inspectors.
Iran has released an American seized in response to our seizure of five Iranian "diplomats" in Iraq. Iran's ambassador to the United Nations, in a letter to the Washington Post, denies Iran is aiding the Iraqi insurgency and calls on the U.S. government to "proffer evidence" and "provide the list of Iranian agents who it alleges are operating in Iraq."
If there is a rush to war here, it is not on the part of Iran.
As Bush is preparing for war on Iran, if he has not already decided on war, where is Congress, which alone has the constitutional power to authorize a war?
Or has it given Bush and Cheney another blank check?