The drumbeat for a military assault on Iran is getting louder at some conservative think tanks, in the offices of hawks on the Bush and Cheney staffs, and among ground forces in Iraq dealing with weapons and explosives constructed in Iran.
Administration calls for aggressive action to destroy Iran's nuclear program, and to cut off its funneling of arms and training to terrorist organizations throughout the Middle East, have featured increasingly tough rhetoric.
In his September 13 televised speech, President Bush pointedly warned of the threat from Iran:
"If we were to be driven out of Iraq,...Iran would benefit from the chaos and would be encouraged in its efforts to gain nuclear weapons and dominate the region. Extremists could control a key part of the global energy supply."
There is unanimous agreement on both sides of the ideological aisle that talk of a strike against Tehran and other sites in Iran has escalated sharply in recent weeks.
Much of the public discussion of military action is designed to serve as a trial balloon to test reaction to such proposals among Congressional leaders and other key players. The subject has, however, also become a publicly discussed issue in the Republican primary contest.
At the September 5 GOP debate in Durham, N.H., Rudy Giuliani declared:
"America has to have a clear position. The position should be that Iran is not going to be allowed to go nuclear. Senator McCain put it very well a few months ago. He said it would be very, very dangerous to take military action against Iran, but it would be even more dangerous if Iran were a nuclear power. And I think a president has to make that very clear."
Evidence of heightened discussion of the initiation of military action against Iran is available in many places:
*In a September 3 blog post, The Weekly Standard's William Kristol, wrote:
"Why are terror training camps in Iran, camps that are directly training terrorists to attack U.S. troops, off limits? After all, if Khameini (to whom the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps reports) has already established the principle of cross-border attacks against accelerators of violence, who are we to disagree with the wisdom of the Supreme Leader?"
*On the same day, American Enterprise Institute fellow Reuel Marc Gerecht wrote in Newsweek that Iran is "a radical revolutionary force determined to sow chaos beyond its borders. Assuming that normal negotiations can bring it around is, therefore, a grave mistake. The mullahs don't want peace in Iraq--just the opposite. War may come, but not because negotiations break down. The likely trigger is an Iranian provocation.
*On September 12, FOX News reported in a story based largely on pro-war sources in the administration and allied think tanks that there is a "consensus" among administration officials that attempts to peacefully persuade Iran to abandon development of its nuclear facilities have "come up empty... Consequently, according to a well-placed Bush administration source, 'everyone in town' is now participating in a broad discussion about the costs and benefits of military action against Iran, with the likely time frame for any such course of action being over the next eight to 10 months, after the presidential primaries have probably been decided, but well before the November 2008 elections."
*The Heritage Foundation, in turn, maintains a web site titled "Iran: The Rising Threat" where the non-profit declares that it supports "a policy of aggressive diplomacy and the strongest possible economic sanctions, combined with the willingness to use force if necessary, to stave off Iran's becoming a nuclear power."
*During Senate Iraq hearings last week, Senator Joseph Lieberman asked Gen. David H. Petraeus if he had "all the authorities you need from a military point of view to deter, disrupt and respond to the Iranian attacks on our troops in Iran's efforts to destabilize Iraq?" Petraeus replied that he does have the authority he needs, while he claims that he does not have plans to go into Iran.
Lieberman, who himself does not preclude action against Iran, contended that "we have evidence that Iran is taking Iraqi extremists to three training camps outside of Tehran, training them in the use of explosives, sophisticated weapons, sending them back into Iraq, where they are responsible for the murder of American soldiers."
With the retirement of Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, Lieberman may well find that he has a new ally in the Democratic Senate caucus after the 2008 elections: Former Nebraska Senator Bob Kerrey who is considered likely to seek regain the seat.
Kerrey is no dove on Iran. In a May 22 op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal, he wrote:
"We must not allow terrorist sanctuaries to develop any place on earth. Whether these fighters are finding refuge in Syria, Iran, Pakistan or elsewhere, we cannot afford diplomatic or political excuses to prevent us from using military force to eliminate them."
The Democratic presidential candidate who has most explicitly addressed the question of military action against Iran is Barack Obama. In a September 12 speech in Clinton, Iowa, he said:
"Iran poses a grave challenge. It builds a nuclear program, supports terrorism, and threatens Israel with destruction. But we hear eerie echoes of the run-up to the war in Iraq in the way that the President and Vice President talk about Iran.
"They conflate Iran and al Qaeda, ignoring the violent schism that exists between Shiite and Sunni militants. They issue veiled threats. They suggest that the time for diplomacy and pressure is running out when we haven't even tried direct diplomacy. Well George Bush and Dick Cheney must hear - loud and clear - from the American people and the Congress: you don't have our support, and you don't have our authorization for another war."