There isn’t much to add to the chorus of laughter that has greeted David Broder’s silly column advocating war with Iran as a means of economic stimulus. It should be enough to mention that no less than Daniel Pipes proposed an Iranian war as Obama’s political salvation, which should have thoroughly discredited the idea by now. What I do find worrisome is that Broder is nothing if not the embodiment of Washington conventional wisdom, so when he casually claims that “Iran is the greatest threat to the world in the young century” it confirms that this nonsense is widely shared and unquestioningly held to be true.
For his part, George Friedman at Stratfor speculated on this scenario without endorsing an attack. What I find interesting about Friedman’s analysis is that he seems to assume that war with Iran can solve Obama’s political problem at home. Friedman puts it this way:
The most obvious justification would be to claim that Iran is about to construct a nuclear device. Whether or not this is true would be immaterial. First, no one would be in a position to challenge the claim, and, second, Obama’s credibility in making the assertion would be much greater than George W. Bush’s, given that Obama does not have the 2003 weapons-of-mass-destruction debacle to deal with and has the advantage of not having made such a claim before. Coming from Obama, the claim would confirm the views of the Republicans, while the Democrats would be hard-pressed to challenge him. In the face of this assertion, Obama would be forced to take action. He could appear reluctant to his base, decisive to the rest. The Republicans could not easily attack him. Nor would the claim be a lie. Defining what it means to almost possess nuclear weapons is nearly a metaphysical discussion. It requires merely a shift in definitions and assumptions. This is a cynical scenario, but it can be aligned with reasonable concerns.
Part of the trouble is that the claim really would be a lie. For that matter, Obama has given the hawks all they could want in Afghanistan, but that has not stopped them from railing against him as the second coming of Jimmy Carter because he set a withdrawal deadline. If Obama claimed that Iran was about to construct a nuclear device, Republican hawks would react in a few different ways, and none of them would help Obama politically. Many would formally support the military action, but they would happily attack Obama in the process. Some would berate Obama for having let things get to this point, and they would actually blame him for having previously “failed” to stop it. Despite having spent decades fretting about Iran’s non-existent nuclear weapons, they would pin an Iranian bomb solely on Obama, whose alleged weakness and “appeasement” invited the Iranian threat. McCain would be all over cable television saying something like, “This is what happens when you try to engage with dictatorships. Our military is paying the price for the President’s failed leadership.” No doubt they would throw in some added shots at his Israel and Afghanistan decisions in the process. “While Obama was wasting our resources on nation-building in Afghanistan, the real threat was gathering in Iran,” they would tell us. It won’t matter if this is consistent with their own previous statements or not.
Others would suddenly discover that they no longer trust the executive with unchecked, arbitrary power to make war on the other side of the world on the basis of shoddy evidence, and they would start calling for Obama’s impeachment. Other hawks would question the timing of the attack, and they would say that it was just a way for Obama to distract attention from whatever nefarious deeds he and his administration were carrying out back home. Some of the more aggressive hawks would condemn Obama for “limiting” the military action to air strikes and naval operations, and would call for the insertion of ground troops. This is not hard to imagine, since this is exactly what some of the more aggressive interventionists did during the bombing of Yugoslavia. Technically, these hawks “supported” Clinton during the bombing, but they were happy to find fault with him for being insufficiently aggressive.
As for his own party, enough Democratic office-holders were burned by trusting the Bush administration that they would not fall for the same ruse again. Some activists would be good partisans and support Obama, but for most progressives an Iranian war would be the last straw that confirmed the strong continuities between the Bush and Obama administrations. It probably wouldn’t matter whether the war went reasonably “well” or poorly, as the decision to start another war would provoke a primary or third-party challenge from the left that would wreck Obama’s re-election hopes, and it would push the majority into the arms of the Republican nominee in 2012. Then again, there is hardly any way that the war could actually go “well,” as a war would consolidate the hold the Iranian government has on the country, cripple the opposition, destroy any gains Obama has made in repairing America’s reputation abroad, provoke significant Iranian retaliation in the Gulf, Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon, and it would threaten Russian and Chinese economic interests enough that it could create problems for the U.S. in other regions that aren’t even being considered in these scenarios. On top of all that, an attack on Iran would only slow, not eliminate, Iran’s development of its nuclear program.