Ok, so now that we have the Iranians saying that they are producing atomic fuel, Seymour Hersh reporting on US administration plans to bomb it, and President George Bush panning the reports as "wild speculation", we can be pretty sure hostilities will begin by the end of the summer (God willing).
All signs seem to be pointing towards a war, like they did before the Iraq "shock and awe" campaign back in 2003. Americans and Iranians have a long history, and their very public split during and after 1979's revolution has left bitter recriminations, unresolved issues, and hard feelings.
It is often said that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. The Greeks under Alexander, swept into Mesopotamia from the west, then invaded Persia, and also what is now Afghanistan. Soon after the conquests of the former two, Alexander was dead and his great empire promptly broke up into four pieces.
The US has overwhelming aerial and technical superiority and should surely be able to defeat Iran in time. However, unlike Iraq, Iran is in a much stronger strategic position. Compared to Iraq, Iran has more than twice the population, three times the land mass, and a much more capable military than Iraq at the beginning of Enduring Freedom.
We must remember that Iraq, which once possessed the most potent military in the middle east except Israel, was bombed into submission after the first Gulf War. Iran was not. The Iranians also enjoy a considerable degree of technical and diplomatic support from Russia and China. The Iranians produce their own versions of relatively advanced Russian designs including strategic missiles, torpedoes, anti-aircraft and anti-tank munitions. They are proficient in the design and deployment of shaped-charges, experienced from their time working with Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Furthermore, the American situation is much weaker than before. Bogged down in Iraq, the insurgency has killed almost 2,500 US servicemen, and wounded tens of thousands. On the other side, American and other NATO troops are trying to keep a lid on the tenacious Taliban. The debt load is weakening the American position in relations to large creditor nations such as China. When war breaks out in Iran, who really believes that Iran won't try to destabilize its American occupied neighbours? Is it beyond reason to envision thousands of Iranian missliles raining down on US bases in the region?
The reality is, Iran has never, and would probably never be a threat to its neighbours, even Israel. Despite the bluster of Ahmadinejad, Iran would not attack Israel even if it possessed nukes, fearing the fatal repercussions of an all out Jewish assault. The Iranians want nothing more than the security of their regime and influence in the region, their own backyard. A nuclear deterent would ensure those aims. Hostile sunni arab realities and Israeli defence systems precludes anything more.
Of course, the Americans are loath to allow Iran these strategic comforts. The administration will fan the flames of anti-Iranian hysteria in order to soften what little world opposition there is to an attack on Iran. The US president, an evangelical Christian who never has to face the American electorate again, will undoubtedly view an attack on Iran as a no-lose proposition, vital to ensuring the permanent security of his Israeli ally. Regime change in Tehran would considerably lessen the strength of the "Islamofascists" who seem to be souring the "democratic" enterprise in Iraq and Palestine.
The Russians aim to recover some of their geopolitical influence, lost as their economy collapsed, partly due to the costly war with Islamist fighters in Afghanistan backed by the CIA in the 80's. Acceding to American demands is not on their agenda. They will attempt to use Iran now, as the US used the mujahideen. The Chinese have a large, energy hungry, and high growth rate economy. The Chinese would like to appear as good global citizens but at the same time, have their own interests in Iranian oil, and regional domination (ie. US-backed Taiwan). The UN security council, composed of these two countries, will not back international action as a result. America will have to force together another posse like they did the "coalition of the willing," in the previous ongoing war.
The President, then, should take pause before embarking on this very serious course of action. He should consider that plans such as having his friend Ariel Sharon firmly in power whilst the puppet PA parliament disarmed the militant groups in Israel, Iraq standing as a newly democratic and gratefully pro-Western regional entity have not gone according to plan.
The fact is, only God knows the future. Human history shows us that plans and intentions, even espoused by the worlds most powerful leaders, seem to end up being just that. It could be that America, intending to wage war to protect its allies, ensure its security, and destroy its enemies may never be able to accomplish its goals. History will tell us the answer but I fear that for the lives of the people killed and maimed, those history lessons would come too late as a useful guide.