Ok, one more time and then I'm just going to sit back and wait for my celebratory beer: I do not think it's very likely that we'll soon go to war with Iran. I've never contended this. What I have contended is that there's a high likelihood (or at least I believe there is a high likelihood) that in the next 16 months tensions with Iran will escalate to a point at which there is some exchange of violence between the U.S. (or U.S.-backed persons) and Iran and that this will occur inside Iran. If that happens, and happens soon, then I might revise my thinking on the issue of full-scale war. But right now I am (and have been) talking about a narrow exchange of violence only.
I think the stimulus for such an exchange has relatively little to do with the balance of power between neo-cons and realists in the Executive Branch. If Cheney and his team were on the ascent, then yes, it would obviously increase the chances that Iran and the U.S. exchange direct violence. But the fact that they're on the decline in no way precludes the possibility that violence happens--as a consequence of the greater conflagration in the region, almost as if by accident. Suppose we discover some crucial link in the chain that connects Tehran with the Shiite insurgents. Suppose an American soldier is taken prisoner. Suppose there's a border skirmish. I could go on. The fact is that if anything like this comes to pass (and, remember, these are the sorts of things that just happen in a war) whose philosophies will be on George Bush's mind, Condoleezza Rice's? Or Dick Cheney's?
Meanwhile, on that other issue (the foreign policy balance of power within the administration), Ezra's not wrong. But I fear he's been overly chastened by the reports we've all read by now. Remember, it's not as if on the one hand you have the entire State Department leaning in a new direction, and on the other you have Dick Cheney holding fast to hawkishness. It's that on the one hand you have many new (much more welcome) faces in a couple executive branch agencies, and on the other you have OVP and a significant segment of the Defense Department. In the end, Bush will be swayed by one or the other of these poles, and I'm relatively confident that in the event of some sort of Iranian provocation--real or imagined--Bush will default to Cheney. And I think the chances of that provocation--or the perception thereof--are fairly high.