Citing most of the same evidence that I have written about over the past few weeks, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, whose access to key policymakers (outside of Vice President Dick Cheney’s office) is second to no other Washington daily journalist argues in his Sunday column that the Bush administration is unlikely to bomb Iran before it leaves office. It’s an important column, not only because he is more specific about the messages conveyed by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Michael Mullen, (and DNI chief Adm. Michael McConnell before him) to top officials in Israel this summer — that the U.S. would “oppose overflights of Iraqi airspace to attack Iran” — but also because he has been told by a “senior official” that the administration will announce what has been rumored for the past month — that Washington will indeed open an interest section in Tehran. Given the trauma of the 1979-81 hostage crisis, I personally believe that the presence of U.S. diplomats in Tehran virtually guarantees that the U.S. will not attack Iran so long as they remain there. If the prediction of Ignatius’ senior official comes true, it’s a very, very big deal in my view.
Ignatius is particularly close to both the Pentagon brass and the intelligence community (and he’s writing a book to be published in September with Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft). His mention of the study by the Washington Institute for Near Policy (WINEP) — which clearly tries to downplay the international consequences of a U.S. and/or Israeli preventive attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities — is particularly interesting in that respect. The study, which its authors have strenuously denied is aimed at making such an attack much more “thinkable,” is nonetheless quite concerning, even more so because Tony Lake and Susan Rice (among Obama’s closest foreign-policy advisers) effectively endorsed it. It’s clearly on the minds of some people who count.
After reading the column, you should also look at Col. Pat Lang’s caution about it on his always-incisive blog. He generally agrees with Ignatius’ analysis, expands on it in important ways, but notes that the current commander-in-chief could prove disturbingly unpredictable in the wake of the November elections. If, on the other hand, U.S. diplomats are in place by then, I think his options will have narrowed considerably.