The Bush administration could be cooking up an “October surprise”—an attack on Iran—to boost the lagging fortunes of the President and the Republican Party, according to a recent editorial by Patrick J. Buchanan.  With midterm elections coming in November, the Bush White House has been cranking up the anti-Iran rhetoric, presenting Tehran’s nuclear program as a clear-and-present danger to the United States.  According to the White House line, the result of nuclear research by the “mad mullahs” would be an Islamic bomb in the hands of terrorists set to attack the American “Great Satan.”  Never mind that the best the Iranians could reportedly hope for would be enough nuclear material in five to ten years for one bomb.  By taking out Iran’s nuclear facilities, the President could not only boost his own ratings but recreate the rally-round-the-flag effect of the heady post-September 11 period.  The Republicans, according to Buchanan, could “hold onto both houses in November, costing Democrats their best chance in a decade of recouping power.”  Buchanan’s scenario sounds about right; what’s more, Bush II could use his credentials as a wartime leader to demand that Congress pass an amnesty for millions of illegal aliens, the elusive Golden Fleece of his presidency.

Meanwhile, New Yorker columnist Seymour Hersh claimed that the Bush administration was considering using “a bunker-buster tactical nuclear weapon . . . against [Iran’s] underground nuclear sites.”  The “mini-nuke” could prove to be an important part of the Bush administration’s dubious preemptive-war doctrine.  After all, both current and future members of the “Axis of Evil” could conceal and protect their weapons of mass destruction and weapons-development programs in underground facilities.  Hersh’s claims meshed with earlier reports that Washington would launch an air campaign against Tehran, perhaps this summer, and that U.S. aircraft were already probing Iranian air defenses and making practice bombing runs, while Special Forces units were scouting out targets on the ground for the air campaign.  True, the “mini-nuke” reports could be a calculated leak by the White House intended to turn up the heat in its psychological warfare with the Iranian regime, but few seemed to doubt that the Bush administration was at least capable of considering a preemptive nuclear strike.

Yet, even with the previously unspeakable threat of a nuclear attack on the table, and in spite of the administration’s less-than-unsoiled reputation for truthfulness, a large segment of the American public seems to be accepting the Iranian nuclear-holocaust threat at face value.  The White House should thank firebrand Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for that.  Ahmadinejad, whose stunning election victory in 2005 may have been aided by the Bush administration’s war in Iraq and “Axis of Evil” rhetoric, has played a key role in making the White House’s case against Iran seem credible.  Apart from his calls to wipe out Israel, the Iranian president has bragged about his country successfully enriching uranium (apparently only a small amount that is insufficient for producing weapons), reinforcing the Bush administration’s claims of a nuclear terrorist threat.  Ahmadinejad, while not a cleric, nonetheless fits the “mad mullah” image, giving the War Party in Washington a perfect nemesis for its apocalyptic scenarios.

It seems unlikely that Tehran would commit national suicide by using nukes in some kind of plot against the United States.  Ahmadinejad may be a fire breather, but the collective leadership that actually rules Iran has proved itself to be more rational than the White House would like us to believe.  The Iranians are most likely seeking nuclear weapons for quite rational reasons: deterring a nuclear-armed Israel and preventing “regime change” by another “coalition of the willing.”  Indeed, the Bush administration’s threats of preemptive “mini-nuke” attacks against potential adversaries will likely spur on the quest for nukes by possible targets of an endless “War on Terror” and/or campaign to “eliminate tyranny from the world.”

Diplomacy and deterrence have worked before—and what would be the likely consequences of a U.S. strike on Iran?  As Mr. Buchanan writes, “Iran could push its Shia allies to attack British and U.S. troops and send Revolutionary Guard ‘volunteers’ in, which could mean a U.S. debacle, unless we responded with more American troops.  Tehran could make us pay a price in blood in Afghanistan.  Tehran could also send its agents into the emirates, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia to attack U.S. installations, setting the Near East ablaze and oil prices soaring to $200 a barrel, plunging the West into recession. . . . Thus a pre-emptive war on Iran, while a political triumph for the president this fall, could, like the invasion of Iraq, prove a long-term disaster.”  Indeed, Iranian Revolutionary Guard leaders have reportedly identified 29 U.S. and British Persian Gulf region targets for attack.

But a disaster in the Persian Gulf, and the Bush team using an attack on Tehran to further an immigration disaster at home, are not the end of the damage an Iran campaign might do.  George Washington University’s Charles Peña has argued that, if the Bush White House is serious about using nuclear weapons preemptively (or even continues its threats to do so), the United States can expect “rogue state” leaders to “strike at the US first.”  The “natural barriers” preventing those leaders from forming alliances with terrorists “will be eroded,” and the incentive for them to develop and supply terrorists with weapons of mass destruction “will increase.”

On the other hand, maybe the warmongering neocons will be quite happy if that is exactly what happens, providing more targets of opportunity for their global crusade to “end tyranny.”  Could it be that they share more in common with Ahmadinejad and Bin Laden than they would care to admit?