As reckless as he is, I don't think he's that reckless. He wouldn't make a move that could set off WMD missile wars, invasions, coups, Islamic revolutions and whatnot all over the Middle East, then just fly back to the ranch and let somebody else clean up the mess. If Bush was at the beginning of his term, he might do it, but not with time running out, and not when he's heading into the sixth year of two Middle Eastern wars he can't win and can't quit.
And that was the situation before this month's state of emergency in Pakistan reminded everyone that Iran isn't the only country where Islamic fanatics could get the Bomb; Pakistan already has it, and the Taliban is that country's rising power.
Bush has to ask himself: What effect would a US attack on Iran do to the situation in Pakistan? Would it strengthen the Taliban even more, would it bring them closer to taking over a nuclear-armed country of 160 million people?
This is just one more nightmarish possibility Bush has to consider before hitting Iran. The likelihood that Iran would hit back with missiles against nearby US bases and against Israel is another. A US ground war in Iran is another. The launching of Syrian and Hizbullah missiles against Israel is another. A Shi'ite uprising against US forces in Iraq is another. The list goes on from there.
EVEN IF Bush wants to bomb Iran's nuclear factories, he knows it will not be the end of the problem, or even the beginning of the end of the problem, which is something he did not know before invading Afghanistan and Iraq. The other thing he knows now is that US armed forces have their limits, and that those limits have about been reached in America's two ongoing wars.
And if he hasn't figured this out on his own, then the people newly in charge of the US military are telling it to him and will continue telling him as his term runs down.
This is Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: "We're in conflict in two countries out there right now. We have to be incredibly thoughtful about the potential of in fact getting into a conflict with a third country in that part of the world." (New York Times interview)
This is General George Casey, commander of the Army: "The demand for our forces exceeds the sustainable supply. We are consumed with meeting the demands of the current fight, and are unable to provide ready forces as rapidly as necessary for other possible contingencies." (Congressional testimony)
This is Admiral William Fallon, head of Central Command (Middle East): "This constant drumbeat of conflict [with Iran]...is not helpful and not useful."(Al-Jazeera interview)
Above all, there is Defense Minister Robert Gates. According to Britain's Daily Telegraph, "Insiders say Mr. Gates has ensured that Mr. Bush has seen more extensive studies of the probable negative effect of an attack on Iran than he was privy to before the war in Iraq."
THEN THERE is Bush's alter ego, Condoleezza Rice, who sides with Gates and the military men. The only administration heavyweight said to be eager to bomb Iran is Dick Cheney, but for once he seems to be outweighed.
Bush obviously doesn't like the idea of leaving behind an Iran primed to go nuclear, but he knows that an aerial assault, even if successful, would not end the nuclear threat from the world of radical Islam. Whatever he does or doesn't do in Iran, that larger threat will still be waiting for his successors in the White House. But if Bush bombs Iran, his immediate successor will have not two Middle East wars to fight, but possibly three or four, not to mention the new wars Israel might face.
It's too much of a gamble. Aside from the life-and-death consequences involved, a US attack on Iran would doom the Republicans' chances in next year's election, while an attack in the 21⁄2-month window between the election and Bush's departure is just too crazy to imagine.
Bush isn't crazy. It's not going to happen.
Which means, in my opinion, that Israel isn't going to bomb Iran either, at least not on this president's watch. Such an assault would obviously expose the Middle East and the rest of the world, including America, to huge risks, so Israel would need America's permission. And if Bush decides that attacking Iran is too risky a move for America to make - which I'm convinced he will decide, if he hasn't already - then he won't allow Israel to make that move, either.
So, relatively speaking, I'm optimistic. The most dangerous course of action would be to bomb Iran, but I realize very clearly that not bombing Iran isn't going to leave the world safe. The forces of militant Islam are the nemesis of our age, whether they get nuclear weapons one day or remain with the biological, chemical and conventional weapons they have today. It's going to take courage to overcome this enemy, but it's going to take wisdom, too.