Page A01. I’ll do my best with the blockquote, but you’re crazy if you don’t read the whole thing.

The Bush administration has authorized the U.S. military to kill or capture Iranian operatives inside Iraq as part of an aggressive new strategy to weaken Tehran’s influence across the Middle East and compel it to give up its nuclear program, according to government and counterterrorism officials with direct knowledge of the effort…

The new “kill or capture” program was authorized by President Bush in a meeting of his most senior advisers last fall, along with other measures meant to curtail Iranian influence from Kabul to Beirut and, ultimately, to shake Iran’s commitment to its nuclear efforts…

The administration’s plans contain five “theaters of interest,” as one senior official put it, with military, intelligence, political and diplomatic strategies designed to target Iranian interests across the Middle East…

The White House has authorized a widening of what is known inside the intelligence community as the “Blue Game Matrix” — a list of approved operations that can be carried out against the Iranian-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon. And U.S. officials are preparing international sanctions against Tehran for holding several dozen al-Qaeda fighters who fled across the Afghan border in late 2001. They plan more aggressive moves to disrupt Tehran’s funding of the radical Palestinian group Hamas and to undermine Iranian interests among Shiites in western Afghanistan.

In Iraq, U.S. troops now have the authority to target any member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, as well as officers of its intelligence services believed to be working with Iraqi militias. The policy does not extend to Iranian civilians or diplomats. Though U.S. forces are not known to have used lethal force against any Iranian to date, Bush administration officials have been urging top military commanders to exercise the authority

Officials said U.S. and British special forces in Iraq, which will work together in some operations, are developing the program’s rules of engagement to define the exact circumstances for using force. In his last few weeks as the top commander in Iraq, Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr. sought to help coordinate the program on the ground. One official said Casey had planned to designate Iran’s Revolutionary Guard as a “hostile entity,” a distinction within the military that would permit offensive action…

In interviews, two senior administration officials separately compared the Tehran government to the Nazis and the Guard to the “SS.” They also referred to Guard members as “terrorists.” Such a formal designation could turn Iran’s military into a target of what Bush calls a “war on terror,” with its members potentially held as enemy combatants or in secret CIA detention.

The aim, obviously, is to beat back Iran influence across the region until they’re back to this point and are ready to make a deal on nukes. Like the surge, it’s a good idea that’s years too late. Unlike the surge, which will be led by Petraeus, it’s being run by Bush’s same old crew. I have no faith in them at this point to anticipate contingencies or react effectively when they occur, so color me reluctantly, cautiously pessimistic.

Then again, we’re not the only one waging multi-front war against them right now. If Iran is the Third Reich in the administration’s analogy, then it’s obvious who the Soviet Union is. Once again we find ourselves allied with an evil empire, but like Don Rumsfeld once (almost) said: you go to war with the force multipliers you have.

With the Shia majority in Iraq now running the country, the Arabs now have to confront Iran directly. And that they are doing. Saudi Arabia is supporting the Palestinian Fatah organization against the Iranian supported Hamas. Saudi Arabia is also using its money to support Sunni Arab, and Christian, factions in Lebanon, against Hizbollah, the Shia minority and its Iranian backers. Saudi Arabia is also giving support to the Sunni Arab majority in Syria. For decades, the Saudis tolerated the Shia minority that ran Syria. No more. The situation has changed, especially with Iran gaining speed in its effort to build nuclear weapons.

The Saudis are even, secretly, cooperating with the Israelis.

Needless to say, the real levers here are economic. If the Saudis start killing them with cheap oil and we push stronger sanctions through the UN (admittedly unlikely), then they’re looking at increased defense spending to meet our escalation and a lot less revenue with which to do it. Cold War redux. Sweet.

Exit question: Is this “war” in lieu of, or a preface to, war on Iran itself?

Update: Second exit question, per the WWII comparison: if the “Soviets” succeed in driving the “Nazis” out, what kind of Wahhabist presence will be left in each of these countries when the dust clears?

Update: ElBaradei said this morning that Iran is planning to install 3,000 new centrifuges at an underground plant next month. I’ve learned enough about uranium enrichment to know that I don’t know much, but Alphabet City has a quote from an expert at CFR claiming that with 3,000, you can make enough weapons-grade material for a bomb within one year.