Threats ‘r us

Over the weekend, stories appeared to the effect that the Bush administration was drawing up contingency plans for air strikes, possibly including tactical nukes, on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Maybe this was an orchestrated leak, heavy-duty saber rattling. We now know this happens in the Bush White House. Maybe it was a for-real leak and there’s something to it. Maybe it means nothing at all. The military is constantly planning for various scenarios.

But the Iranians are surely taking this threat seriously. Just last month, President Bush reaffirmed his 2002 doctrine of military pre-emption against gathering threats and, in the same document, named Iran as the United States’ most serious security threat. And we happen to have a large, battle-trained army in the neighborhood, next door, in fact, and naval forces offshore.

Somebody else should take this seriously, too _ Congress. Bush has taken an overly expansionist view of his powers _ basically, they’re unchecked _ under the post-9/11 congressional resolution authorizing the use of force. A unilateral U.S. air strike on Iran is truly a terrible idea, but if Congress thinks this is OK it should explicitly say so. And if doesn’t, then lawmakers should specify that two ongoing wars are enough for this administration.

On Monday, Bush turned down the heat, saying that the talk of possible air strikes was “wild speculation” and that he was firmly committed to a diplomatic solution.

A diplomatic solution is by far the best course, but getting there within 10 years, the generally agreed time frame for Iran to develop a nuclear device, will not be easy. The U.N. Security Council is half-hearted and divided about sanctions on Iran. Our closest allies on Iran are the Europeans, and the European Union this week quietly reviewed possible sanctions of its own _ bans on travel by selected Iranian officials and Iranian students studying critical sciences in EU universities, and limiting exports.

All of these could work without, as air strikes certainly would, rallying Iranians around their deeply unpopular theocratic government, whose collapse would be the ideal solution. Maybe in time.

But the hesitancy that Bush must find frustrating was evident when EU officials told Reuters that the review “was just a contingency-planning exercise and that sanctions were not imminent.”

The Security Council and the EU may not be able to temporize much longer. The International Atomic Energy Agency is to report to the council April 28 whether Iran has halted its uranium-enrichment program. On Tuesday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad answered for the IAEA. Iran, he said, had succeeded for the first time in enriching uranium.

(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at) Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,