The one thing that the current leadership of the United States and the current leadership of Iran have in common is an interest in high oil prices. Iran’s government and ruling elite live off of oil revenue. At present, macroeconomic conditions are such that high oil prices lead to a redistrubution of wealth in the US towards the Bush administration’s personal and political friends without (so far, so good) damaging the broader economy in any obvious way.

A gentlemanly game of saber-rattling seems to be in the interest of both parties. Perhaps that is why we have one.

A nuclearizing Iran may be a real issue. The world is full of real issues. The current crisis might have come up any time in the past decade, and might have been delayed five years with the smallest amount of fudging and dissembing and rhetorical moderation on Iran’s part. Why now?

I’m not alleging a conspiracy here. In a game of two players with a mutual interest, there need be no secret handshake to seal a deal. Nor am I alleging that everything is fabricated. Perhaps the new Iranian President really is driven by domestic power considerations in his boastful cretinism. The Bush Administration probably does want to see regime change in Iran and an end to its nuclear program, and Sy-Hersh-style deniable brinkmanship may be a defensible strategy to get there. But it can’t hurt, from either perspective, that the athletes in this little game of nuclear chicken are very, very well paid.