Jan 02 2011

Will Obama Attack Iran?

Brookings senior fellow Michael O’Hanlon suggested recently (12/31/10) on Fox News that the “biggest foreign policy decision of Obama’s presidency … (could be) whether or not to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities.”

Iran plans some serious, potentially weapon-related uranium enrichment activities at its plant in Natanz.
Click

The Threat
Reports suggest Iran has its own uranium mines and is within one (U.S. sources) to 3 years (Israeli intelligence) of developing its own nuclear devices. And Iran has apparently obtained (from North Korea) “powerful missiles able to reach European capitals,” (Wall Street Journal, 11/29/10). It’s a situation Obama will have to deal with.

Brookings’ Suzanne Maloney concurs that continued failures — exacerbated by Wikileaks revelations — of international talks with Iran to limit its nuclear development would mean that “military action could be on the table.”

Serious Conflicts Are Expected
Current tensions with Iran, North Korea, and even potentially Venezuela are similar to the dangerous conflicts that have routinely occurred either just prior to, or early in Maslow Windows over the last 200 years. The classic example is 1962’s Cuban Missile Crisis that could have triggered a nuclear war but was rapidly brought under control. And in fact, it intensified the U.S.- Soviet race to the Moon.
(See: “Korea, Iran, and the Venezuela Missile Crisis: Self-Organizing Toward a Critical State?”)

Indeed, no Maslow Window of the last 200 years has ever been delayed or diminished in any observable way by an early or pre-Maslow Window military conflict.
(See: “Near-Term Wars Threaten the New Space Age”)

And, although the Iran nuclear situation is potentially very threatening, there is every historical reason to believe that it too will eventually be resolved without a major war.

However, it’s possible in the next year or two that this empirically-based scenario could be wrong. For example, if the U.S. decided to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities and the attack failed, it might trigger a larger conflict and be a political catastrophe.

The Political Context
Several commentators have explored the political dimensions of a U.S. attack on Iran. For example, last February Middle East expert Daniel Pipes asserted that the only way for Obama to reverse negative public perceptions of himself is to “give orders for the U.S. military to destroy the Iranian nuclear weapon capacity.” This “dramatic gesture” is militarily doable and has enjoyed strong public support at the ~60% level since 2009.

Pipes has received significant support for his idea, including Elliott Abrams (Council of Foreign Relations) who predicts that Obama will bomb Iranian nukes and reap political benefits (8/17/10).

The Obama who had struck Iran and destroyed its nuclear program would be a far stronger candidate, and perhaps an unbeatable one.

Likeswise, George Friedman of Stratfor sees potential political benefits for Obama from an Iranian military option (10/26/10),

…given the domestic gridlock that appears to be in the offing, a shift to a foreign policy emphasis makes sense, Obama needs to be seen as an effective commander in chief and Iran is the logical target.

And David Broder (Washington Post) also links military success in Iran with political success for Obama (10/31/10).

The nation will rally around Obama because Iran is the greatest threat to the world … If he can confront this threat and contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions, he will have made the world safer and may be regarded as one of the most successful presidents in history.

And Since the Election…
Obviously, the recent historic, wave election has not strengthened Obama politically. For example, the frequently quoted University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato refers to Obama now as “OTB”: One Term Barack (11/11/10).

President Barack Obama is down for the count, will have an early lame duck presidency, and will be out of the White House in two years … If President Obama is smart, he will try to salvage his term in the White House by announcing now that he will not undertake a hopeless campaign for reelection, and instead form a bipartisan national unity government to try to hold the nation together…

Sabato’s article indicates that Obama will not have an easy re-election in 2012. And I suspect that Pipes et al. would see Obama’s political weakness as strengthening their expectations for an attack.

So What Will Obama Do?
There are four basic reasons that I believe Obama will not attack Iran.
1. Military — Any U.S. attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities must succeed. A failure might lead to a larger war and would be politically catastrophic for Obama (similar to Jimmy Carter’s Iran hostage crisis). And the military pros (e.g., Adm. Mike Mullen) publicly regard an attack as an unattractive “last option” potentially afflicted with “unintended consequences” — although that could be said of almost any military action.
2. Politics — In a best case scenario, Obama would lose the support of his liberal base and others in the Democratic Party, although he might gain many Independents and some Republicans. It would be viewed by his base as worse than extending the Bush tax cuts. Unlike Pipes et al., I’m not convinced Obama would gain more support than he’d lose.
3. Ideology — Obama campaigned as an anti-war (in Iraq) candidate. His subsequent experiences in both Iraq and Afghanistan, his rhetorical attempts to draw closer to the Muslim world, and his general approach to the domestic War on Terror, together argue against his being inclined toward an attack on Iran.
4. History — Over the last 200 years major wars do not occur just before or early in a Maslow Window. (Long-term historical patterns show that a major war is unlikely until the 2020s.) Because even a successful attack by the U.S. on Iranian nuclear facilities could trigger a larger war, it appears to be an unlikely scenario.

No responses yet

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply