Don’t panic, but …

Is the United States preparing to go to war with Iran?

Cue up your Daryl Worley CDs. Stock up on patriotic car magnets. Get ready to start referring to your Persian cat as a freedom feline. The United States is planning to go to war with Iran.

I’m not saying the United States is certainly, most definitely, undoubtedly going to launch a military strike against Iran. I’m saying the Bush administration is putting all of the necessary military pieces in place to launch an enormous and sustained bombing campaign against Iran as early as this spring.

Although the Bush administration has denied it, the rhetorical and military buildup has unmistakably begun.

Just before Valentine’s Day, anonymous U.S. officials held a dramatic, secretive press briefing to show off Iranian-made roadside bombs being used in Iraq to attack U.S. troops. It was followed by a presidential press conference during which Bush repeatedly stated his intention to protect American troops in Iraq from Iranian weapons.

The briefers and the bombs said nothing new about Iraq. Administration officials have been complaining about Iranian military support for Iraqi Shiites since 2003. The episode’s only news value was to reveal how the Bush administration will attempt to justify a war with Iran by claiming, among other things, self-defense. Like Dubya said: “My job is to protect our troops.”

Though the rhetorical war just recently got hot, the military buildup against Iran started last year when the Pentagon ordered the aircraft carriers USS Eisenhower and USS Stennis to swim in lazy circles near Iran’s southern coast. It’s the first time since 2003 that two U.S. carriers have been deployed there at the same time.

In addition to carrying approximately 60 strike aircraft, U.S. carriers are accompanied by cruisers, destroyers and submarines capable of firing hundreds of guided missiles at land targets over a sustained period. Bombs and guided missiles are the weapons that the Bush administration would use if it chose to attack Iranian military and nuclear installations.

In addition to all the naval airpower moving into place, there are already 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, which borders Iran to the west; 27,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, which borders Iran to the east; and several U.S. bases in countries to Iran’s north and south. Iran is also quite close to the joint U.S.-U.K. airbase on the Indian Ocean island Diego Garcia. Diego Garcia bases several of the biggest long-range bombers in the U.S. military. The United States would need British permission before using Diego Garcia for an attack on Iran. In the event that the Brits don’t grant that permission (Tony Blair might, but his successor this spring will likely not) the United States has moved several of its long-range bombers from Diego Garcia to Qatar in the Persian Gulf. Qatar is right off Iran’s coast.

Speaking of the Brits, the conservative and pro-Iraq War British newspaper the Telegraph reported last month that the United States already has started a ground war of sorts in Iran. Quoting a CIA official and a former U.S. diplomat, the article claims that the United States is funding terrorism perpetrated by Iran’s ethnic minorities in an effort to pressure Iran from the inside into surrendering its nuclear program. Terrorist attacks inside have increased sharply over the past two years.

You read that correctly. The country presided over by the man who said “You’re either with us or against us in the fight against terror,” is funding terrorism in Iran. The U.S. Department of Irony continues to outdo itself.