We've just passed Memorial Day and the Bush administration is rolling out phase one of its plan for Iran: "diplomacy."
But the administration's idea of diplomacy is a curious one: Give us what we want, and then we'll negotiate with you. By making the diplomatic end-game —Tehran's abandonment of uranium enrichment —the precondition for engaging in discussion, the the administration has crafted a surefire non-starter. This is not a serious effort.
And the lack of seriousness is revealed in subtle ways, as when Condi Rice repeatedly peddles the lie that an unchecked Iran will be ready to produce a bomb before 2006 is out. This is what she told NBC about Iran's nuclear program: "They talk about trying to reach production scale capability by the end of the year."
What Rice is referring to is Iran's ability to begin enriching uranium. That's troubling, but it takes a lot more than that to produce a functional nuclear weapon. The U.S. government's own National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, requested by the NSC in 2001 when Condi was at the helm, says that country is a full decade away from the bomb. That concurs with British and Israeli intelligence estimates.
Is Iran's nuclear ambition a problem that needs to be nipped in the bud? Absolutely. Is it a crisis that needs to be resolved before the clock hits 2007? Absolutely not. So why is Condi implying that Iran could nuke us by the end of the year? Hmmm. What else happens by the end of the year? Oh, yeah. Those pesky midterm elections.
This then is what we can expect to see this summer: A lot of wheel spinning. A song and dance at the U.N. A good college try to get the international community to stand up to the Iranian nuclear menace. In short, an exhaustion of non-military options.
The guaranteed failure of the administration's diplomacy campaign sets up phase two of the Bush Iran plan: Military brinksmanship. If experience has taught us anything, we can expect this phase to begin sometime after Labor Day (you don't introduce a new product line in August, after all).
Will we actually attack Iran? I doubt it. But I predict we'll see a world-class exercise in saber-rattling, combined with a world-class PR exercise in fearmongering. And Rove and the GOP can then revive their favorite platform from 2002 and 2004:
"Vote for us, or Democrats will let you and your children die."