Despite hard-line rhetoric on both sides, analysts say diplomacy is the far more likely outcome.
The drumbeat may sound like a march to conflict between the United States and Iran:
•US commanders are building a small forward base in Iraq – Combat Outpost Shocker, just miles from Iran's border – to stanch what they say is the flow of lethal weaponry that is part of an Iranian "proxy war" against the US.
•Iranian commanders are touting better missile capability and electronic surveillance of the "enemy," and making leadership changes that appear to prepare for a fight.
•And the US Senate last week voted for a resolution to designate Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) a "terrorist" group. Iran's parliament reciprocated on Saturday, designating the CIA and US Armyas "terrorists."
But in the wake of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's controversial US visit, are signs pointing toward war or diplomacy?
Despite hard-line rhetoric on both sides – and a lengthy story by Seymour Hersh in The New Yorker posted on Sunday that suggests the Bush administration is ready for "surgical strikes" against Iran – analysts say diplomacy is the far more likely outcome.
"I am convinced they have zero interest in a war with Iran," says Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution, who has spent time with key US decisionmakers in recent months and visited Iraq in July. "They are completely fixated on Iraq." The military in Iraq is "apoplectic" about Iran's role, he says, prompting a "steady drumbeat to take stronger and stronger measures against the Iranians."
President Bush said in August he had "authorized" US commanders to "confront Tehran's murderous activities." But few in civilian or Pentagon leadership appear ready for direct military action. The US instead is working for a third round of UN sanctions over Iran's nuclear program, and US and Iranian ambassadors in Baghdad have met three times for talks.
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