It was easy enough to miss — buried, as it was, almost two-thirds of the way through the president's speech the other evening — but I think the United States is actively preparing for the possibility of war with Iran.
I've had several conversations in recent days with very senior U.S. military officers, retired and active duty; and what one of them said to me on Tuesday didn't fully resonate until I heard the president's speech on Wednesday. This one officer, who is in a position to know what the Pentagon's expectations are for that region, came right out and said that he wouldn't be surprised if the United States and Iran were at war before the end of 2007.
"At our instigation or theirs?" I asked.
"No, they would have to do something to provoke it," he said.
Now, it has long been an open secret here in Washington that there are still a few, very highly placed civilians in our government who remain determined to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons and who are fully prepared to use military means to do so.
With that as context, listen again to what the president said Wednesday evening:
He said that success in Iraq requires taking steps against Iran and Syria:
"These two regimes are allowing terrorists and insurgents to use their territory to move in and out of Iraq. Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops. We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We will interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq."
Now, that is hardly a declaration of war; but then President Bush went on to list some of the other steps he has ordered: the deployment, to the region, of an additional aircraft carrier and the strike group that goes with it, and also the deployment of Patriot air-defense systems — none of it particularly useful for fighting insurgents in al-Anbar province or Shiite militias in Sadr City. But if you were expecting a showdown with Iran, now that's another matter.