As tensions between Iran and the United States continue to mount, Vice President Dick Cheney has threatened military action by asserting that the Bush Administration has “not taken any options off the table.” Clearly alarmed by this belligerent rhetoric and the prospect of another disastrous, unwinnable war, Democratic presidential candidates have been scrambling to distance themselves from it by staking out their own positions. Hillary Clinton, for instance, has declared, “No option can be taken off the table.” Barack Obama, on the other hand, has argued, “We should take no option, including military action, off the table.” Meanwhile, John Edwards, a lonely voice in the wilderness on the issue, has concluded, “We need to keep all options on the table.”

This has set off a frenzied search for the table. Nobody seems to know where it is. “The thought of several dozen presidential candidates staggering around with all these options in their arms and no place to put them down is absolutely terrifying,” said a respected furniture analyst at Stanford. “They might accidentally drop one, and it would probably explode.”

Some experts speculate that no such table exists. The Bush Administration is believed to have suspended its table programs and destroyed its existing stocks of tables during the run-up to the Iraq War in order to confound United Nations table inspectors. But Cheney seems to be referring to an existing table, one that may be kept in the same undisclosed location where he himself is usually kept, widely believed to be the Great Dismal Swamp. As for President Bush, he is convinced that tables are among the end-time signs predicted in the Bible by the prophet Ikea.

So the search continues. Halliburton, which has a $13.2 billion federal no-bid contract to supply card tables to Iraq when the Iraqis are determined by US authorities to be ready for modern Western-style democratic games like poker, bridge, canasta and whist, said that if the table isn’t found, it would be willing to supply a new one, outfitted with hundreds of lethal, self-sabotaging options, for $26 billion.

Neoconservatives are determined to locate the table and dismantle it. “We want all tables taken off the table,” thundered John Bolton, angrily pounding on, in the absence of a table, the head of Alberto Gonzales. “Tables have more than one side, but we don’t. We don’t want anything with several sides on our side.” But in what appeared to be a more conciliatory tone, he added, “We might be willing to settle for something a little smaller, like a pedestal, with a bust of Richard Perle or L. Paul Bremer or [thrusting a thumb at his own chest] some other great man on it.”

But Democrats are equally interested in finding the table, though not to dismantle it. “It would look nice right over there,” said Senator Clinton, gesturing toward one end of the mock-up of the Oval Office she has constructed in the backyard of the Clinton home in suburban Chappaqua, New York, “if we could just move that thing out of the way,” apparently referring to her husband, who was sitting there at the time with an unidentified option on his lap.