Every sensible analysis I've read about North Korea's nuclear test — you could read this , or this , or this — convinces me that it's so much sound and fury, signifying nothing. Assuming the test went as planned (and that's not at all a sure thing ), Kim Jong Il now has the regime-change insurance he's been pursuing ever since President Bush elevated him from tinhorn dictator to the Axis of Evil; there's enough uncertainty surrounding North Korea's status in the nuclear club to forestall any preemptive attack by the United States.
Now Iran? That's another matter entirely. If the mullahs are pursuing nuclear weapons, it's surely because they prefer the fate of a nuclear-armed Kim Jong Il to the fate of a non-nuclear-armed Saddam Hussein. And no one believes Iran is anywhere near having a working nuke yet. So when does an attempt at regime change take place?
I can shrug off one analyst saying there's nothing holding back the Bush administration from a preemptive attack on Iran before the mid-term election. But a second one and I start to wonder. I then examine the possible objections to that scenario:
There's no popular support for an attack on Iran. There doesn't have to be. Just the fact the U.S. launches an attack will be enough to convince many people to rally around the flag; recriminations can always come later. Leading Democrats will have no objections; they won't want to be portrayed as underming the mission just as it's getting underway. And when it comes to Iran, some Democrats are more royal than the king.
The military is stretched too thin to even contemplate an attack on Iran. Never underestimate the faith of neoconservatives in cakewalks, even if they've been discredited on that score in Iraq. God bless them, a few even believe a U.S. attack will somehow inspire ordinary Iranians to rise up and overthrow their government.
The resulting blow to the economy would be devastating. Maybe the Bush administration figures an economic meltdown is coming after the election anyway. Better then from their standpoint that it happen under cover of a war, no?
I conclude a preemptive attack on Iran before the election is entirely possible. Not a certainty. But possible.