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Did we, to borrow Churchill’s phrase, kill the wrong pig?

So it would appear. For the War Party is already beating the drums for war on Iran, using the identical arguments they gave us for going after Saddam Hussein – i.e, the ayatollahs are backing al-Qaida and Iran is developing weapons of mass destruction.

And, on both counts, as this column has long argued, the case against Iran as a supporter of Islamic terror and seeker after the bomb was always stronger than the case against Saddam. The War Party’s problem is that its credibility has taken more hits than the Nebuchadnezzar Division of the Republican Guard.

The War Party told us Iraq had huge stocks of biological and chemical weapons, that Saddam was building nuclear weapons, that he had a role in 9-11, that he was harboring al-Qaida, that victory would trigger democratic revolutions across the Middle East, that Iran would be intimidated by our “shock and awe” campaign.

None of this is panning out. A month after victory, Iran and North Korea are conducting crash programs to build atomic weapons and – or so we are told – the mullahs are back in the terrorism game, aiding al-Qaida in carrying out that triple-bombing in Saudi Arabia.

So, the War Party has a problem. Having spent a year telling us Saddam was a Hitler who must be destroyed lest we all perish, it is going to have a difficult time generating that fear, loathing and iron resolve a second time.

Moreover, neither North Korea nor Iran is as “doable” as was Iraq in the term used by Paul Wolfowitz. A large slice of the U.S. Army is now tied down pacifying Iraq’s 23 million. Scores of thousands of veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom have come home to families that have no wish to see them sent off to war again.

The “Mission Accomplished” banner has already flown from the Abraham Lincoln. There are insufficient forces in the Gulf to invade and defeat an Iran that is three times the size of Iraq and does have missiles and chemical and biological weapons. After Afghanistan and Iraq, America is, psychologically, unprepared for another major war, especially against a nation the size of Iran.

Should we undertake war on Iran, there is surely no doubt as to the outcome. But few believe it would be a “cake walk,” with only 125 U.S. dead and Iran’s capital falling with only token resistance.

Why, then, this outburst of bellicosity? The president has no constitutional authorization from Congress to go to war with Iran. No NATO ally, not even the Brits, would fight beside us. And we have no binding U.N. resolution we can claim to be enforcing.

If we are not ready for war, why the war talk? Or do we now believe that our words will intimidate the ayatollahs – even though the lesson of what we did to Iraq, right next door, did not?

The painful truth: The “Bush Doctrine” is now being defied by both surviving partners of the axis of evil, Iran and North Korea, despite what we did to Iraq, and the president has few cards left to play, other than big casino.

Should Pyongyang build and test an atom bomb, how do we keep it from becoming a nuclear power? Sanctions have not disarmed it. China refuses to join an embargo. What options are left, except a blockade or a pre-emptive strike on North Korea’s nuclear plants, obliterating them, even if it means using atomic weapons? Perhaps that is what the Pentagon request for a study of the uses of atomic weapons below five kilotons is all about.

But what would an act of war on North Korea do to the South?

As for Iran, the War Party appears to have miscalculated badly. The whipping we gave the Iraqi Republican Guard not only did not intimidate the ayatollahs, it caused them to reach this not unreasonable conclusion:

Axis-of-evil nations with nuclear weapons, like North Korea, get U.S. attention and respect. Axis-of-Evil nations without nuclear weapons, like Iraq, get JDAMs and the 101st Airborne. Therefore, Iran must acquire nuclear weapons or Iran must prepare to accept dictation from the Great Satan.

Once again, the action-oriented Americans failed to think it through. Like Britain, which went to war in 1939 to save Poland and prevent Hitler’s domination of Europe but ended up – after six bloody and bankrupting years of fighting – with Stalin running Poland and Stalin dominating Europe, the United States, with its war on Iraq, seems only to have accelerated that very proliferation of nuclear weapons we fought the war to prevent.

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