EDITORIAL: Beware the October surprise

Two recent developments are intensifying concerns the Bush administration is heading for a reckless attack on Iran.

President Bush has tried to use his Middle East tour to rally the region around U.S. allegations that Iran poses a military threat to its neighbors and to the world.

Speaking in Abu Dhabi Jan. 13, Bush again called Iran “the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism.” The week before, in Israel, the president repeated his complaints about Iran’s nuclear program, despite last month’s National Intelligence Estimate that Iran halted nuclear weapons work years ago.

In fact, it is clear President Bush never accepted the intelligence estimate. Soon after it was released he declared that “Iran was dangerous, Iran is dangerous and Iran will be dangerous … what’s to say they couldn’t start another covert nuclear weapons program?”

Bush’s view also contradicts the findings of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which found no evidence Iran is going beyond its stated objective to develop nuclear power, an option available under the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which the U.S. has signed.

The president also railed against Iran over an incident in the Persian Gulf earlier this month in which Iranian speed boats allegedly threatened U.S. Navy warships. A video claiming to show five small boats speeding toward a three-ship U.S. convoy was accompanied by a soundtrack containing a verbal threat.

However, the Pentagon was forced to acknowledge that the soundtrack was recorded separately from the video images. Observers pointed out that the soundtrack contained no sounds of a motor, sea or wind, as would be expected if the words were shouted from a speeding small boat. Now it appears the audio may have come from some other source entirely.

For many, this sounds like the 1964 Tonkin Gulf incident in which an alleged attack on a U.S. vessel — later proven false — became the pretext over which the U.S. escalated its war on Vietnam, with disastrous results for all concerned.

As we enter the final year of George Bush’s presidency, we need to be more vigilant than ever against a new U.S. preemptive strike this time on Iran.