It is, quite possibly, the most pressing question in American politics today: does George W. Bush really believe that he is Harry Truman?

The question is pressing because if this is, indeed, what the president thinks, we are all in for a pretty rough ride over the next 16-plus months.

Half a century after he left office Truman is now often described as a "near-great" president: no George Washington, Abraham Lincoln or Franklin Roosevelt to be sure, but an average man who rose to the occasion during difficult and dangerous times.

Does that also sound like a description of George W. Bush?

No, I don't think so either.

But there are a lot of hints these days that Bush really does see himself as a latter-day Truman. From his perspective, he is doing what he believes to be right regardless of its short-term effect on his political fortunes while trusting history to vindicate him once he retires to his ranch in Crawford, Texas.

This is a problem because the only thing more dangerous than a president who no longer has to worry about winning elections is one who has largely ceased to care what anyone else thinks. Which is why the growing tensions between the US and Iran are so worrisome. It is an oddly artificial "crisis".

Iran has always blustered a lot - this was as true under the Shah as it has been under the Islamic Republic. It has also, for all the bluster, tended to behave like a rational actor in world affairs.

Genuine measure

Put another way, the international processes set in motion by the United Nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency, while at times painfully slow, are working. Moreover, unlike unilateral American action, they proceed with a genuine measure of international backing - something that lends significant weight to any serious attempt to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Finally, we also need to acknowledge that if a country - any country - is truly hell-bent on acquiring nuclear weapons it will get them, sooner or later.

The rhetoric may, however, provide Bush with the domestic backing he needs to carry out some sort of military action against Iran.

This brings us back to the Truman analogy.

Over here in the US there is a lot of buyer's remorse where Iraq is concerned. The political left is up in arms over the way it was sold a bill of goods regarding non-existent Weapons of Mass Destruction, a fictional connection to 9/11 and the chimera of democracy brought at gunpoint to a nation allegedly eager to receive it. Even those on the right who still support the war are quick to tell anyone who will listen that the whole thing has been handled badly right from the beginning.

This is all a very big problem. But bombing Iran on the theory that history will vindicate you is decidedly not the way to solve it.

Any historian will tell you that analogies are a bad business - often far less precise than they first appear to be. The trick is that where the Truman analogy is concerned it matters little whether or not it is historically accurate. The only thing that counts is whether or not the president himself really believes it.

Gordon Robison is a journalist and consultant based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He has lived in and reported on the Middle East for two decades, including assignments in Baghdad for both CNN and Fox News.