"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 U.S. 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 repertoire for a couple of years now, rivaled only by global warming as a sure-fire 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 of 2003 -- the U.S. Air Force proposed to reduce Iraq's entire military to smoldering ruins. In the event, "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 U.S. Air Force from trying once again, and there are no doubt vivid attack plans now circulating the government.

            Will it come to pass? In his memoir, "I Claud" (which I'm happy to say CounterPunch Books/AK Press will be republishing next spring), my father offers a useful journalistic recipe on this matter of prediction:             (SET ITAL) (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." (END ITAL)

            So, whether in 24 hours or 24 days or at some point before the end of his term, we should predict Bush will send the bombers on their way to Teheran 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 explode, would the U.S. government really want to see the price of gas at the pump go over $5? What would Hugo Chavez 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 in 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 U.S. Army. Wouldn't they adamantly oppose the notion of an attack on Iran, which would see Shiite resistance groups in Iraq cut U.S. supply convoys from Kuwait bringing fuel and water to the big U.S. 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' "surge" is working?

            The other side of the ledger isn't hard to fill in either. The oil companies like a crisis that sends up the price of their commodity. The Chinese are a prudent lot and don't want to rock the world economy. Politically, both they and Russia would like to see the United States compound the disaster in Iraq and get into a long-term mess in Iran. Israel wants an attack on Iran, and the Israel lobby calls the shots in U.S. foreign policy. What Israel wants, Israel gets. The U.S. peace movement is in disarray, and sizable chunks of it would be delighted to see bombs shower down on the woman-hating ayatollahs and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the holocaust denier.

            Amid the disaster of their Middle Eastern strategy, Bush and his advisers may hype themselves into one last desperate throw, emboldened by the fact that 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 Associated Press, which counted 1,809 Iraqi civilians killed in August, compared with 1,760 in July. The Sunni split in Anbar province is not one likely to be replicated in Baghdad or elsewhere and anyway had nothing to do with the hike in U.S. troop levels. Bush didn't dare go to Baghdad.

            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 that should the bombs start to fall on Tehran, most of the Democrats in Congress will be on their feet, cheering.

            Alexander Cockburn is coeditor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. He is also co-author of the new book "Dime's Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils," available through To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at COPYRIGHT 2007 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.