“They’re about taking out the entire Iranian military.” This particular spine-chiller comes from Alexis Debat, excitingly identified as “director of terrorism and national security” at the Nixon Center. According to Debat, the big takeout is what the US Air Force has in store, as opposed to mere “pinprick strikes” against the infamous nuclear facilities.

Predicting imminent war on Iran has been one of the top two items in Cassandra’s repertory for a couple of years now, rivaled only by global warming as a surefire way to sell newspapers and boost website hits.

Debat was re-roasting that well-scorched chestnut, the “shock and awe” strategy, whereby–back in March 2003–the Air Force proposed to reduce Iraq’s entire military to smoldering ruins. “Shock and awe” was a resounding failure, like all such pledges by Air Force commanders to destroy the enemy’s military since the birth of aerial bombardments nearly a century ago. Such failures have never stopped the Air Force from trying once again, and there are no doubt vivid attack plans now circulating in government.

Will it come to pass? In his memoir I, Claud (which I’m happy to say CounterPunch Books/AK Press will be republishing in January), my father offers a useful recipe on this matter of prediction:

As we at length relaxed at breakfast by a brazier on the terrace of the Café du Dôme, he [Robert Dell, the diplomatic correspondent of the Manchester Guardian] said to me: “Do you want to get what used to be called a ‘scoop’ for your horrid little paper every day?” (The “horrid little paper” was, of course, the Daily Worker, whose diplomatic correspondent I then was.)
  “That would be nice.”
  “Well then, all you have to do is to read all the continental papers available every morning, take lunch with one or more of Europe’s leading politicians or diplomats, make up your mind what is the vilest action that, in the circumstances, the French, British, Italian or German government could undertake, and then, in the leisure of the afternoon, sit down at your typewriter and write a dispatch announcing that that is just what they are going to do. You can’t miss. Your news will be denied two hours after it is published and confirmed after twenty four.”

So, whether in twenty-four hours or twenty-four days or at some point before the end of Bush’s term, we should predict he will send the bombers on their way to Tehran to destroy the usual targets–power stations and kindred civilian infrastructure, hospitals, maybe a few bomb shelters crammed with women and children.

But will it really come to pass?

Despite the unending stream of stories across the months announcing that an attack on Iran is on the way, I’ve had my doubts. Amid the housing slump here, with the possibility of an inflationary surge as the credit balloon threatens to burst, would the government really want to see the price of gas at the pump go over $5? What would Hugo Chávez do? Even a hiccup in flows from Venezuela would paralyze refineries here, specifically designed for Venezuelan crude. China has a big stake in Iran. It’s also Uncle Sam’s banker. The Chinese don’t have to destroy the dollar, merely squeeze its windpipe or revalue their currency enough to double retail prices at Wal-Mart. The Republicans and the presidential candidates wouldn’t want that on the edge of an election year.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff know the Iraq War has almost broken the US Army. Wouldn’t they adamantly oppose the notion of an attack on Iran, which would see Shiite resistance groups in Iraq cut US supply convoys from Kuwait bringing fuel and water to the big US bases? Wouldn’t Shiite forces as a whole finally commence a campaign of eviction of the American occupier? Wouldn’t this puncture the fantasy that General Petraeus’s “surge” is working?

The other side of the ledger isn’t hard to fill in either. The Chinese are a prudent lot and don’t want to rock the world economy. Politically, both they and the Russians would like to see the United States compound the disaster in Iraq and get into a long-term mess in Iran. Sarkozy has finished off Gaullist independence. France has clambered into Uncle Sam’s hind pocket and David Miliband, the British foreign secretary, has confirmed Britain’s continued residence in an adjacent aperture. Israel wants an attack on Iran, and the Israel lobby calls the shots in US foreign policy. What Israel wants, Israel gets. The American peace movement is in disarray, and sizable gobbets of it would be delighted to see bombs shower down on the woman-hating ayatollahs and Ahmadinejad, the Holocaust denier. With the United States battering the Iranian sponsors of the Shiites, the Sunnis in Iraq would further abate their attacks, seeing a chance to recoup from the disaster of the elections of early 2005, which put the Shiite-Kurdish coalition in charge.

Amid the disaster of their Middle Eastern strategy Bush and his advisers may hype themselves into one last desperate throw. The selling of the surge has been a success, even though all the Democrats need to do is cite the United Nations, which says the number of Iraqis fleeing their homes has gone from 50,000 to 60,000 a month. Or quote the Associated Press, which counted 1,809 Iraqi civilians killed in August, compared with 1,760 in July. In past years, these very hot summer months have seen a lull in resistance activity. The Sunni split in Anbar province is not likely to be replicated in Baghdad or elsewhere and anyway had nothing to do with the hike in US troop levels. Bush didn’t dare go to Baghdad last week.

Weigh it all up, and you’d be foolish to bet that an attack on Iran couldn’t happen. The peace movement had better pull itself together, remembering as it does so that should the bombs start to fall on Tehran, most of the Democrats in Congress will be on their feet, cheering.