While channel surfing I came across a re-run of The Next Joe Millionaire, a sequel, which the presenter introduces with the words "they said we couldn't do it again".

He was referring to the show's former success in duping avaricious young ladies.

This time the "catch" was a not-very-bright Texan cowboy, who attempts to pass himself off as a wealthy rancher so as to impress a bevy of European beauties, chosen over their American cousins only because they had never seen the original.

This "Joe" was a real hic, who thought Holland's main claim to fame was its wooden clogs. Yet, amazingly, the women were taken in.

A not-so-harmless con is today being orchestrated by another Texan and his own crew of propagandists.

In this show, it is Western publics that are being taken for a ride.

I'm talking about the US government inspired hysteria over Iran's nuclear programme and the way the public is being conditioned by the corporate media.

The invasion of Iraq could be compared to the original Joe Millionaire, and now the build-up to an economic or military attack on Iran is looking more and more like the sequel.

A year ago, I wouldn't have believed this possible but with 57 per cent of the US public ready for military strikes on Iran, according to a Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times poll, it pains me to say "here we go again".

In truth, it's easy to understand why the US would seek an Iranian regime change. Such has long been a mainstay of the neocon agenda, mainly because of that country's perceived threat value to Israel and its support of Hezbollah and Hamas.

Moreover, it can't have escaped anyone's attention that Iran is one of the world's biggest energy exporters and is said to be on the threshold of opening up an oil bourse that would trade in Euros.

And let's face it, if a Western-friendly Iranian government could be imposed on Tehran on the lines of the Shah's, then the US and its allies would not only control practically all the oil coming out of the Middle East and the Gulf, they could also thwart the rise of energy-hungry China and India.

But Washington's warmongers have had a few problems on their hands. Firstly, Iran's nuclear facilities are dotted all over the country and said to be buried deep underground in some instances.

Second, the US military is already seriously overstretched fighting a growing insurgency in Iraq and, most importantly, how could a public, sceptical over the entire Iraq misadventure, be dragged on board the latest?

Frankly, I'm amazed that 57 per cent of the American people could even contemplate a pre-emptive conflict with Iran, especially when that country hasn't threatened any other, and there is no smoking gun to support the US contention that it is pursuing a nuclear weapons capability. In any event, the US is too far away from Iran to face any physical danger to American citizens.

The cost

What could that 57 per cent be thinking of agreeing to another conflict when the war in Iraq has already cost the US taxpayer $240 billion and 2,367 of their young men have returned home in body bags?

What could their reasoning possibly be when their own top officials, including former terrorism tsar Richard Clarke, former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neil and numerous ex-CIA officials have clearly stated that intelligence was hyped around the plan to go to war with Iraq?

Latest in the roll call of whistle blowers is Lawrence Wilkerson, the former State Department number two. He recently described Colin Powell's pre-war presentation before the UN Security Council as "a hoax".

So if the so-called intelligence was "a hoax", shouldn't the intelligence concerning Iran's ambitions be viewed with suspicion?

Indeed, it is hard to understand how that 57 per cent can possibly put their faith in the White House when the credibility of its current incumbents has been consistently eroded by very senior people.

Take "Plamegate" for instance. Just recently it emerged that US Vice-President Dick Cheney's former Chief of Staff Lewis "Scooter" Libby told a grand jury that his superiors had told him to leak information about Iraq's WMDs.

Then there is the Abramoff scandal from which President George W. Bush has attempted to distance himself by saying he didn't know the former indicted lobbyist.

Unfortunately for the White House, Jack Abramoff says he met Bush "almost a dozen times", a claim backed up by inconvenient photographs.

Even Bush's claim that a 2002 attack on Los Angeles had been foiled has been taken to task.

The mayor of that city said he had been "broadsided" by the news and an ex-CIA official told the New York Daily News: "There was no definitive plot ? it never got past the thought stage."

According to Britain's Sunday Telegraph, the US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is drawing up plans to bomb Iran's nuclear sites as "a last resort", a phrase liberally sprinkled about prior to the invasion of Iraq.

We said they couldn't do it again. It looks like we were wrong. We didn't reckon on the gullible 57 per cent, who view Al Qaida as a lesser threat to their security than Tehran, and their leader as an oracle.

Linda S. Heard is a specialist writer on Middle East affairs.