Bret Stephens tries to persuade a “wavering voter” to support Romney by blatantly lying to him:
No, we will not have another war in the Middle East. Not even if President Romney orders Iran’s nuclear sites bombed to smithereens.
Stephens tries to pull this off by citing the example of Operation Desert Fox. That greatly understates what an attack on Iran would involve. Stephens wants to create the impression that war with Iran would be just a few days of air strikes and nothing more. The “wavering voter” might want to know that this is a preposterous scenario.
If Romney ordered an attack on Iran, it would take much longer than a few days. It would be a prolonged air campaign. The risks to Americans directly involved in the campaign and elsewhere would be great. Americans are weary of foreign wars mainly because they don’t want more American losses in unnecessary wars, and attacking Iran is the perfect example of an unnecessary war. There would be no legal pretext for such an attack. It would be illegal under international law, and most governments around the world would condemn it.
The Iranians would retaliate against U.S. forces in the Gulf and Afghanistan, and could conceivably use their proxies to carry out attacks against U.S. targets elsewhere in the region. Gulf states are also at risk from Iranian missiles. Anthony Cordesman noted in his recent study of the impact on an attack on Iran that “Iranian retaliation will have a devastating regional consequences.” The costs to the U.S. and global economy because of this attack would be high. The oil shock that would come from several weeks of armed conflict in and around the Gulf would be a significant drag on global growth. As Cordesman notes, “a sustained US$ 10/barrel increase in the price of oil could lower growth of global GDP by 0.5 percentage points (pct pts) in the subsequent year.”
Last but certainly not least, the death toll on the Iranian side would be considerable. Attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities would likely kill thousands and could potentially kill many more civilians than that. What would the “wavering voter” make of the possibility that more than 300,000 people could be exposed to radioactive materials in the wake of the attacks?
Attacking Iran would draw the U.S. into a major war with costs that most Americans won’t want, and it would inflict enormous damage on Iran, the region, and the global economy. Even in the best case scenario, it would only delay Iran’s nuclear program. Romney would have the public believe that he wants to prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapons capability, which means that his bar for attacking Iran is significantly lower than it is for his opponent. If I were a “wavering voter,” I would remember that Romney has consistently sided with hard-liners in his own party on policy, and in the absence of any contradictory evidence I would assume the worst about what this means for Romney’s foreign policy.