Sunday, November 7, 2010

Wag the Dog

So many bizarre results from the Republican tsunami in last week’s mid-term elections—which to choose first?

How about this? Pick a target for the United States military to attack—urr, uh, how about Iran?—and see if it flies. Might even be able to convince Obama, now that he’s staggering from his ‘shellacking,’ to use it as a surefire way to get re-elected. You know, the old Wag the Dog scenario, where a weakened president starts a war to galvanize public opinion in his favor (Clinton allegedly did it in Bosnia; Bush clearly did it in Iraq after 9/11). Nevermind that we’re already engaged in two wars in the Middle East. Nevermind that another war would surely raise the deficit to newer more dizzying heights. War works.

Unlikely as such madness might seem to most of us, some recent trial balloons suggest that we should all think again.

For example, Senator Lindsey Graham (one of the so-called Republican “moderates” in the Senate who was flirting with voting for the Health Care Bill) just recently raised the issue of attacking Iran at a security conference in Canada (Saturday, Nov. 6). Asserting that “containment is off the table,” Graham said that war on Iran had several positive components to recommend it: “not to just neutralize their nuclear program, but to sink their navy, destroy their air force and deliver a decisive blow to the Revolutionary Guard, in other words neuter that regime.” (Matt Duss, ThinkProgress, 7 November 2010). This is astonishing, not only because countless international observers have opined that such an attack would prove counterproductive—actually leading more surely to a nuclear-armed Iran than anything else (Duss in the above-referenced article cites several of these informed opinions)—but also because it was not that long ago that the CIA’s National Intelligence Estimate stated that “not only was Iran NOT working on a nuclear weapon, but it had ended its nuclear weapons efforts in 2003” (see my blog “Iran Again,” June 9, 2008). No matter, the "reasonable" Senator Graham had no hesitation at all in calling for another war against this “great threat.”

He’s not alone. But more subtly than Graham’s, the notion of a military strike on Iran has recently been framed as a great way for President Obama to rescue his tattered reputation in time for the 2012 elections. ‘Wag the Dog.' The amazing thing here, though, is that the nation’s oldest and most respected journalist, is proposing the war option. David Broder, of the Washington Post, wrote a piece on October 31 on the eve of the election, titled, “How Obama Might Recover.” Beginning with his august opinion that conventional policy options would probably not work to revive the economy in time since no one can design surefire economic measures, Broder gets to his “inside” advice to the President on one measure that might:

What else might affect the economy? The answer is obvious, but its implications are frightening. War and peace influence the economy.
Look back at FDR and the Great Depression. What finally resolved that economic crisis? World War II.
Here is where Obama is likely to prevail. With strong Republican support in Congress for challenging Iran's ambition to become a nuclear power, he can spend much of 2011 and 2012 orchestrating a showdown with the mullahs. This will help him politically because the opposition party will be urging him on. And as tensions rise and we accelerate preparations for war, the economy will improve. (Broder, Washington Post, 10/31/10)

Now this is truly bizarre. Broder is no nutball conservative; if anything, he tends toward the liberal end of the spectrum. And yet, here he is, seriously and publicly proposing that the President of the United States start a pre-emptive war with a nation that has attacked no one, in order to rescue his failing presidency and improve the economy. After what we’ve been through in the last ten years with Bush’s pre-emptive wars and the huge hole they put in the nation’s budget (estimates for the Iraq war go as high as $3 trillion! not to mention the cost in death, the drubbing of America’s reputation in the world, and so on), for a respected journalist to seriously offer a plan like this begins to make Tea Party wackos look sane. Broder, of course, is quick to stress that he’s “not suggesting, of course, that the president incite a war to get reelected.” Oh heavens no. But he goes on to close his piece with precisely that suggestion:
But the nation will rally around Obama because Iran is the greatest threat to the world in the young century. 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.

No proof, of course, for his assertion that Iran is, in fact, “the greatest threat to the world in the young century.” Nothing but the uncontested assertion of our senior pundit—and the appetizing carrot to the young president that he will have “made the world safer” and be regarded by history (or at least by Broder) as one of our most “successful presidents.”

How is one to explain such a thing? Has the 81-year-old Broder gone senile? Or is he just listening to a few other pundits who have actually said the same thing recently. Like, for example, the rabidly pro-Israel Elliott Abrams (he of Iran-Contra fame, resuscitated as a ‘National Security Adviser for Global Democracy Strategy’ for Bush) who said recently: “The Obama who had struck Iran and destroyed its nuclear program would be a far stronger candidate, and perhaps an unbeatable one.” Or the equally rabid Daniel Pipes: “a strike on Iranian facilities would dispatch Obama’s feckless first year down the memory hole and transform the domestic political scene.” (both quoted by Eric Alterman,, Nov. 4, 2010). Whatever the source for his loony idea, it is enough to give one pause. And though most commentators on Broder’s lunacy have discounted the fact that it might influence President Obama, we would do well to consider where the president stands with respect to Iran. When he was running for President, he spoke to AIPAC, the America Israel Political Action Committee, a front for promoting even the most right-wing Israeli policies in Washington. As I noted in the above-mentioned blog, what candidate Obama said, at that time, was that he was holding Iran responsible for the rockets launched by Hezbollah on Israel after the latter attacked Lebanon. He added,
we must preserve our total commitment to our unique defense relationship with Israel by fully funding military assistance and continuing to work on the Arrow and related missile defense programs…(to) help Israel maintain its military edge and deter and repel attacks from as far as Tehran and as close as Gaza.

The Obama administration’s rhetoric excoriating Iran for its alleged nuclear weapons program has only escalated since then.

Is it beyond the realm of possibility, then, that a severely wounded Obama would consider the Broder/Abrams/Pipes suggestion (NB: Jeffrey Goldberg’s September 2010 piece in the Atlantic Magazine, “The Point of No Return,” in which he essentially predicts and rationalizes the fact that Israel will, in the next year, attack Iran itself, may be the mother of all such Israeli-promoted trial balloons; it ends with this quote from Israeli President Shimon Peres: “We don’t want to win over the president,” he said. “We want the president to win.”)?

Given the madness now at large in this nation, it would be folly to think so.

Lawrence DiStasi

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