[NB: my 100th post!]
i think kevin drum is pretty much right that folks are missing the larger point about the latest talk about US tactical nuclear strikes against iran. the fact that such strikes would be a part of normal contingency planning by our military should be no surprise at all. go back into the record, at least to march 2002 when elements of the US "nuclear posture review" were reported:
"Outlining a broad overhaul of American nuclear policy, a secret Pentagon report calls for developing new nuclear weapons that would be better suited for striking targets in Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Syria and Libya. The Nuclear Posture Review, as the Pentagon report is known, is a comprehensive blueprint for developing and deploying nuclear weapons. While some of the report is unclassified, key portions are secret. In campaigning for office President Bush stressed that he wanted to slash the number of nuclear weapons and develop a military that would be suited for the post-cold war world. The new Pentagon report, in fact, finds that non-nuclear conventional weapons are becoming an increasingly important element of the Pentagon arsenal. But the report also indicates that the Pentagon views nuclear weapons as an important element of military planning. It stresses a need to develop earth-penetrating nuclear weapons to destroy heavily fortified underground bunkers, including those that may be used to store chemical and biological weapons. It calls for improving the intelligence and targeting systems needed for nuclear strikes and argues that the United States may need to resume nuclear testing." (MICHAEL R. GORDON, "U.S. NUCLEAR PLAN SEES NEW TARGETS AND NEW WEAPONS," The New York Times, March 10, 2002, Section 1, Page 1)
drum goes on to say, "what's important isn't the existence of the contingency plans. Rather, it's the fairly obvious fact that the Bush administration is publicizing them as part of a very public PR campaign in favor of a strike against Iran."
here i think he's wrong: it's not that the bushies are publicizing it, it's that they're denying it so vigorously. how many times can scott mcclellan and this president say the words "wild speculation"? (answer: eight and two respectively). even their brit lacky jack straw calls this all "completely nuts."
if anything these people are always on message and stay on it over and over until, no matter how blatantly untrue, it becomes "fact." why don't they just come right out and admit the obvious, that this is all a part of normal military contingency planning? if they're trying to bluff ahmadinejad down, acting like a tactical nuclear strike is crazy -- as it most certainly is -- is a sure non-starter. in classic kissingerian realpolitik, you have convince your foe that you're just crazy enough to carry out your threat.
i think either the bushies are so flustered by their plummeting poll numbers and the incredible failures they've wrought upon every level of government, and that's why they're not talking tough on this. or else they're like a kid whose been caught knowing full well that this is their intention and are trying to pretend it's not.
oh that and of course how familiar it all sounds to what we heard from october 2001 to march 2003.