Here we go again. The administration says ''regime change'' is needed. Warnings are issued about the threat posed by the ''madman'' who leads the oil-rich country. Alarming intelligence estimates are leaked about nuclear weapons programs. The vice president warns ''monumental consequences'' if the alleged efforts to develop nuclear weapons are continued. Neoconservatives call for military action. Administration operatives express scorn for international monitoring. The Pentagon is reported not only to be developing contingency plans for an assault, but already launching mock bombing runs to measure air defense capacities. Covert military incursions are said to be active on the ground.
Iran has oil and gas -- lots of it, second only to Saudi Arabia in reserves. It controls the straits of the Persian Gulf, where 40 percent of the world's oil flows each day. It is headed by an Islamist fundamentalist who vows Israel should be wiped off the map. Iran admittedly has a nuclear energy program in process, and many believe that it is committed to building nuclear weapons.
But this may well be more about the United States than about Iran. President Bush's polls are at record lows. Republicans face a brutal off-year election. Karl Rove has pledged to make the war on terror a partisan issue in the fall. It surely isn't an accident that the White House is turning up the heat on Iran now, just as it did against Iraq in the run-up to the 2002 elections.
The White House preparations are ominous. Bush has said that an Iranian bomb is unacceptable. In dispatching troops to reconnoiter in Iran and airplanes to mock bombing runs, the White House is putting Iran and the world on notice: We're ready to strike if Iran goes on with its program. Despite reservations from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the New Yorker's Seymour Hersh reports, the White House is contemplating the first use of nuclear weapons to ''take out'' the underground Iranian facilities that may be part of the weapons program.
Is it conceivable that a president who sees himself on a divine mission has learned nothing from the debacle in Iraq? Remember the bit about being greeted as ''liberators'' in Iraq? Now, according to an anonymous contractor in Hersh's story, the White House is said to believe that the bombing will turn the people against the mullahs who run the government. That will counter the experience of every bombing effort since the invention of the airplane.
The question is whether the Congress and the American people will roll over or stand up and call the administration to account. Surely, this is the time for Republicans to put aside their partisan zealotry and hold hearings -- open and public -- that explore the nature of the threat posed by Iran, the programs already under way by the administration and the intelligence estimates, here and elsewhere, and what they really say.
Reportedly, the White House is briefing selected legislators -- those who are cheerleaders for the war in Iraq. It doesn't want hearings because it doesn't want to inform the minority Democrats, much less the American people. The president believes he has absolute authority to launch a war of his choosing, without congressional approval, U.N. mandate or imminent threat.
War would destabilize the Persian Gulf. Terrorism would spread. Bin Laden and others would rouse 1.2 billion Muslims with cries that the United States is seeking to destroy Islam. America would be supported by few if any of our allies -- and actively, if not directly, opposed by Russia and China. We need international diplomacy, not unilateral bomb rattling toward Iran. We need a concerted plan for energy independence, reducing our reliance on foreign oil. We need to engage the world's nations in a grand alliance against terrorists -- not isolate America as a rogue nation. It is time for Congress to act boldly and early before the administration rolls out another supposedly cost-efficient war in time for the fall elections.
© 2006 Chicago Sun-Times