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Would Americans Hold Iran Responsible for the Consequences of a War Iran Didn’t Start?

Unlike Robert Merry, I found the Israeli-attack-on-Iran scenario presented by Karim Sadjadpour and Blake Hounshell to be depressingly plausible. Merry objects:

These guys are dreaming. The implication here is that Americans will simply accept the necessity of this attack, accept the necessity of America getting drawn into the fray, and accept whatever negative impact that would have on their lives. Don’t count on it. Such a development would drive a wedge through American politics, just as it would drive a wedge through the U.S.-Israeli relationship.

I’ve arguedinthepastthat I don’t think any Israeli government would be foolish enough to launch an attack on Iran, especially when doing so could harm its relationship with Washington. However, if it did happen, the scenario the authors describe makes sense. Merry doesn’t believe that most Americans would blame Iran for the conflict or the resulting spike in oil prices. He’s right that many Americans would not do this, but an equally large and possibly larger number would. The attack wouldn’t create a new wedge in the public so much as it would exacerbate one that already exists. According to a February Rasmussen poll, 48% say they would want the U.S. to help Israel if Israel attacks Iran, so it’s not hard to imagine that a similar percentage would view any ensuing conflict and its severe economic consequences through an anti-Iranian lens. If these Americans want the U.S. to help Israel in a war against Iran that Israel starts, they presumably accept most or all of the arguments used to rationalize starting an unnecessary war. These people would blame Iran for the conflict because they are already inclined to see Iran as the aggressive party, or else they wouldn’t be supportive of a “preventive” war against Iran.

A war against Iran that began this way would likely continue for weeks or months at the very least, and the public’s patience with that war would probably wear thin quite quickly, but the initial instinct for many Americans would be to blame Iran. (Never underestimate the impulse to deny that “we” and our client governments have done something wrong.) The public views Iran very unfavorably, and most Americans accept the exaggerated portrayal of the threat from Iran’s nuclear program. It is unfortunately quite plausible that more Americans would fault Iran for the consequences of a war it didn’t begin than would blame the government responsible for starting it. We can thank the misguided bipartisan Iran policy that Obama just endorsed once again at the U.N. for that. Our political leaders’ irrational obsession with Iran’s nuclear program and the constant fear-mongering about it that leaders in both parties engage in create an atmosphere in which this sort of public response is far too likely.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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