In its standoff with Iran, the Bush administration has been raising the temperature to a point where one begins to wonder what it has in mind.
At a news conference on Tuesday, President Bush was asked why the administration, after eight months, had suddenly released photos of a nuclear reactor under construction in Syria, bombed by the Israelis. He spoke of sending a message to Iran to stop their nuclear programs.
Was he suggesting the possibility that an Iranian nuclear installation might go the way of the reactor that was being built in Syria, reportedly with North Korean help? That is the closest the administration has yet come to suggesting the possible use of force against Iran.
Around the same time, the Pentagon announced that a second aircraft carrier, the USS Lincoln, has been sent into the Persian Gulf. It adds, as though an afterthought, that the carrier is only to relieve one that has been on station. And Defense Secretary Robert Gates explains, "I don't see it as an escalation. I think it could be seen, though, as a reminder." Say what?
Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says the Pentagon has military options it could consider against Iran, although the present intention is to rely on diplomatic and economic methods.
The trouble is that diplomatic pressure and sanctions have not accomplished very much. Not only is the administration worried about Iran's nuclear program, but the latest State Department report on terrorist threats brands Iran as, "the most active state sponsor of terrorism." The report says that Iran has armed militants in Iraq with weapons, training and money, and these are being used to target coalition and Iraqi forces and civilians.
Nothing the Bush administration has yet said or done seems to have had any effect on Iran. Indeed, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced Thursday that Iran is no longer denoting its petroleum transactions in dollars, which the Iranian president called "worthless pieces of paper" at a summit meeting of oil-producing countries in Saudi Arabia last year. The ultimate insult, you might say.
But Iran and the U.S. seem to be on a collision course. And one wonders what will happen in the remaining months of the Bush presidency.