This record is worth revisiting because of the many parallels to the current situation. Just as Bush gave ambiguous signals about his intentions regarding Iraq in 2002 - denying that a decision had been made to invade but never ruling it out - so, today, he is giving similar signals with respect to Iran. "This notion that the United States is getting ready to attack Iran is simply ridiculous," Bush declared in Belgium on February 22. He then added: "Having said that, all options are on the table." And, just as Bush's 2002 denials of an intent to invade Iraq were accompanied by intense preparations for just such an outcome, so, today, one can detect similar preparations for an attack on Iran.
There are also indications that the CIA and SOF officials have met with Iranian opposition forces - in particular, the Mujaheddin-e Khalq (MEK) - to discuss their possible involvement in commando raids inside Iran or a full-scale proxy war. In one such report, Newsweek disclosed in February that the Bush Administration "is seeking to cull useful MEK members as operatives for use against Tehran." (Although the MEK is listed on the State Department's roster of terrorist groups, its forces are "gently treated" by the American troops guarding their compound in eastern Iraq, Newsweek revealed.)
Given the immense stress now being placed on US ground forces in Iraq, it is likely that the Pentagon's favored plan for military action in Iran involves some combination of airstrikes and the use of proxy forces like the MEK. But even a small-scale assault of this sort is likely to provoke retaliatory action by Iran - possibly entailing missile strikes on oil tankers in the Persian Gulf or covert aid to the insurgency in Iraq. This being the case, CENTCOM would also have to develop plans for a wide range of escalatory moves.
Repeating what was said at the outset, there is no evidence that President Bush has already made the decision to attack Iran. But there are many indications that planning for such a move is well under way - and if the record of Iraq (and other wars) teaches us anything, it is that such planning, once commenced, is very hard to turn around. Hence, we should not wait until after relations with Iran have reached the crisis point to advise against US military action. We should begin acting now, before the march to war becomes irreversible.
I just hope the wording of the bill passed by Congress that Bush misused to go to war in Iraq does not permit him to invade Iran without asking for further permission to do so.