Thursday, January 19, 2012

Fearing War with Iran

The blogosphere and twitterverse are returning back to normal after a day of protests about internet regulation: the focus returns to concerns about a US preemptive war against Iran.  Yes, there are folks out there beating the drums for war, making arguments today that seem very similar to those made in 2002, except the threat now ends in an "N" and not a "Q".

Should we be that worried about a deliberate, pre-emptive strike to take out the Iranian nuclear facilities?  I have long argued with a friend about exactly this topic.  She had some basis to go on while the Bush crowd was still in office (although I kept winning the bet since even the Bushies were not stupid enough to launch yet another war in the Mideast).  But now?  Given how deliberate Obama was about increasing the number of troops in Afghanistan a couple of years ago--even though that did fulfill a campaign promise, I doubt that he has any enthusiasm for a war against Iran.

Yes, sending a few carriers to the Strait of Hormuz is a significant move and threatens Iran some, the goal there is to maintain a traditional American position: to sail through any and all straits as international law allows (which is why the US and Canada see the Northwest Passage differently).

That is different from starting a process (air strikes) that would have limited utility and plenty of 2nd and 3rd order effects (consequences).  It is pretty clear that air strikes would not destroy Iran's nuclear capabilities (they learned to dig deep and to diversify).  So, the strikes would make some folks feel good, but not achieve any real objectives besides pushing us further down the slope into war.

And the thing people who fear a US attack seem to be forgetting: IT IS AN ELECTION YEAR!  Another war in the Mideast would certainly cause oil prices to spike, setting back whatever progress has been made in the US recovery and probably tip the ever-instable Euro situation into a total disaster.  What does Obama know about American politics?  "It is about the economy, stupid!" as the Clintonites emphasized.

Could the concern about the political consequences of the economic side-effects be overwhelmed by other domestic political pressures?  Sure, if there were folks who might vote for Obama who cared about Iran over everything else.  But is there such a constituency?  Such a huge group of voters that would be matter more than those who would either vote for the Republicans or stay home if we have a re-appearance of staglation thanks to an Iranian-related oil crisis?  Obama is not Jimmy Carter.  More importantly, he is after Jimmy Carter in this timeline, so he can learn from what happened before.

I have had no conversations with the folks around Obama, but I just cannot see any domestic political reason to attack Iran.  I can see heaps of reasons not to.  If the Republicans want to attack Obama on foreign policy, I think that would be their mistake.  Obama has kept the promise to get out of Iraq (thanks to the Iraqi domestic political dynamics--not wanting to appear to be in bed with the occupiers), he ramped up and then down in Afghanistan, he gave the orders to take the risky step of killing Bin Laden, he supported at relatively low cost the NATO effort to abet regime change in Libya, and so on.  If the Republicans want to consider him weak on foreign policy, good luck with that.

So, while I can imagine a shooting war breaking out over ships and boats bumping into each other in the Strait of Hormuz (unless all Iranian ships and boats need rescue rather than just many), I do not think it is at all likely that the US will launch air strikes or more than that anytime in the near to medium term.

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