What do the pros think?

Dick Cheney was too busy dodging bombs in Afghanistan today to issue any more apocolyptic pronouncements about Iran (perhaps he’ll see the attack as a sign that the Taliban resurgence is in its “last throes”), so the action on Iran today shifts to Washington, D.C., where some of the nation’s intelligence chiefs will deliver an annual “Worldwide Threat Briefing” to Congress.

Spencer Ackerman reports that this year’s briefing comes at a critical moment — when Team Bush is shifting its war-of-civilizations strategy away from Sunni militants like al-Qaeda and toward a Shiite nation-state, Iran.  The shift is evident both in the administration’s rhetoric and in the clandestine moves described in Seymour Hersh’s latest piece.  In light of this, Ackerman says it will be revealing to see whether the intelligence pros will be on the same page as the veep:

Nuances will be important, and the hearing will surely be a proving ground for getting an evaluation of where Iran and al-Qaeda fit into the picture. No sensible intelligence official would ever emphasize one threat at the expense of another, so don’t look for any dramatic repudiations of the Bush administration. But for the first time since this month’s strange intelligence briefing on Iranian malfeasance in Iraq, there’ll be a public opportunity to discern and investigate discrepancies between how administration and intelligence officials portray the relative threats from Iran and al-Qaeda.

Meanwhile in Iran, discontent with Ahmadinejad keeps growing.  Reformers and conservatives alike are getting fed up, and Iran’s supreme leader Khamenei — the guy who really calls this shots — is rumored to be getting his belly full of Ahmadinejad too.  From Team Bush’s standpoint, Ahmadinejad’s removal from office would be a disaster — all these months of building up a bogeyman in the public mind only to have to find a new one.  As Stephen Kinzer shows in his book Overthrow, American-engineered regime change usually goes over better with the American people if there’s a face to be demonized — “Butcher” Weyler, Noriega, Saddam…