Appearing alongside CIA Director David Petraeus before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence last week, James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, said of Iran:
"We don't believe they've actually made the decision to go ahead with a nuclear weapon."
Before the hearing, as James Fallows of The Atlantic reports, Clapper released his "Worldwide Threat Assessment." It read, "We do not know ... if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons."
Clapper thus reaffirmed the assessment of 16 U.S. intelligence agencies in 2007, reportedly repeated in 2011, that the U.S. does not believe that Iran has decided to become a nuclear weapons state.
In December, when Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said that if Iran went all out, it might be able to build a nuclear weapon in a year, Pentagon spokesman George Little hastily clarified his comments:
"The secretary was clear that we have no indication that the Iranians have made a decision to develop a nuclear weapon."
On Jan. 8, Panetta himself told CBS:
"(Is Iran) trying to develop a nuclear weapon? No. But we know that they're trying to develop a nuclear capability. And that's what concerns us. And our redline to Iran is: Do not develop a nuclear weapon."
On Super Bowl Sunday, President Barack Obama told NBC's Matt Lauer that he hopes to solve the Iranian problem "diplomatically."
From the above, we may conclude that the administration does not believe that Iran has crossed any redline on the nuclear issue — and President Obama does not want war with Iran.
Who, then, does want war? Ayatollah Ali Khamenei? Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?
From their actions, it would appear not. If Iran wanted war with the United States, any terror attack inside this country or on U.S. forces in Iraq or Afghanistan could bring that about in an afternoon.
Expulsion of the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors from the Natanz enrichment facility, covering up the IAEA cameras, breaking the seals on the low-enriched uranium stockpiled there, or removing the LEU would be a fire bell for the Pentagon.
But the IAEA inspectors and LEU are still there.
When the alleged plot by a used-car salesman in Texas to hire Mexican cartel criminals to blow up a D.C. restaurant and kill the Saudi ambassador was revealed, Iran denied it emphatically and demanded to interview the alleged mastermind.
Moreover, Tehran has yet to retaliate for the assassinations of five of its nuclear scientists and four terror attacks by Jundallah in Sistan-Baluchistan and PJAK, a Kurdish terrorist organization operating out of Iraqi Kurdistan. Iran has alleged Western and Israeli involvement in these attacks.
Now that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has denied any U.S. involvement, Mossad is the prime suspect behind the killing of the nuclear scientists. And U.S. writer Mark Perry, in Foreign Policy, alleges that Mossad agents posed as CIA and used U.S. dollars in London to recruit Jundallah.
If this is true, this would be a false flag operation to provoke Iran into lashing out at America. Apparently, Iran did not take the bait.
Why have the Iranians not followed through on their threat to close the Strait of Hormuz and begun to dial it back?
War with the United States would be a disaster. Though the Tehran regime might survive — as Saddam Hussein's survived Desert Storm — Iran's navy, most of its armor, anti-aircraft and anti-ship defenses, and its strategic missile force would be destroyed, as would much of the country's infrastructure. Iran would be set back years.
Who, then, wants war with Iran?
All those who would like to see exactly that happen to Iran.
And who are they? The Netanyahu government and its echo chamber in U.S. politics and media, the neoconservatives, members of Congress, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum.
And as the Obama administration is the major force in U.S. politics opposed to war with Iran, its defeat in November would increase, to near certitude, the probability of a U.S. war with Iran in 2013.
Yet if the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence community are correct — Iran does not have a bomb and has not decided to build a bomb — why should we go to war with Iran?
Answer: Iran represents "an existential threat" to Israel.
But Israel has 200 atomic bombs and three ways to deliver them, while Iran has never built, tested or weaponized a nuclear device. Who is the existential threat to whom here?
And though a U.S. war on Iran would be calamitous for Iran, it would be no cakewalk for Americans, who could become terrorist targets for years in the Gulf, Afghanistan, Baghdad's Green Zone, Lebanon and even here in the USA.
Year 2012 is thus shaping up as a war-or-peace election, with Republicans the war party and Democrats the peace-and-diplomacy party.
And as the months pass between now and November, this will become clear to the nation.
Patrick J. Buchanan is the author of "Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025?" To find out more about Patrick Buchanan and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.