George Friedman, the founder of intelligence company STRATFOR, writes on Real Clear Politics that if the Democrats suffer significant losses in next week’s election then Iran is “the one issue on which the president could galvanize public opinion.” The Republicans have practically made it part of their party platform to combat “radical Islam.” Democrats see Iran as a state sponsor of human rights abuses. An opportunity, could be waiting if Obama could somehow justify a military strike on Iran, says Friedman in his eerily mapped out meeting between the domestic political and foreign policy realms.
Friedman writes (my emphasis):
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.
And saying that Iran has a nuclear weapons program is a rather subjective statement, writes Friedman.
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.
Friedman, whose article is indeed very cynical, points to previous STRATFOR research which indicates that destroying Iran’s nuclear capability may require an extended air campaign, the use of special operations units on the ground, military action against Iran’s naval forces, and the destruction of the Iranian air force and air defenses. When all that is completed, “This would not solve the problem of the rest of Iran’s conventional forces, which would represent a threat to the region, so these forces would have to be attacked and reduced as well.”
Potential downsides of a such a campaign could include:
Iran could launch a terrorist campaign and attempt to close the Strait of Hormuz, sending the global economy into a deep recession on soaring oil prices. It could also create a civil war in Iraq. U.S. intelligence could have missed the fact that the Iranians already have a deliverable nuclear weapon. All of these are possible risks, and, according to STRATFOR’s thinking, the risks outweigh the rewards. After all, the best laid military plan can end in a fiasco.
While Friedman endorses a “Nixon to China” rapprochement with Iran, he is quick to admit Obama lacks the ideological credentials to undertake such a dramatic shift in policy. Instead, Friedman, predicts Obama will be under increased pressure to attack after next week’s elections.
Friedman concludes that Obama must choose between attacking the Republicans head-on for blocking his domestic policy initiatives or look for success in the foreign policy arena.
The only obvious way to achieve success that would have a positive effect on the U.S. strategic position is to attack Iran. Such an attack would have substantial advantages and very real dangers. It could change the dynamics of the Middle East and it could be a military failure.
While Friedman’s rather terrifying description of Obama deciding to attack Iran because it’s the only area of bipartisan agreement seems outlandish, it serves the purpose of illuminating the pressures that Obama and fellow Democrats will be under after the election. Perhaps what stands out most in Friedman’s analysis is the acknowledgment that a successful military strike on Iran’s nuclear program would require far more than the air-strikes discussed by Israeli and American hawks (see Jeffrey Goldberg‘s recent article, The Point of No Return and Reuel Marc Gerecht‘s article, Should Israel Bomb Iran?.). Instead, this will be a conflict that will require significant downside risk and a sustained military commitment to removing Iran’s–loosely defined–nuclear capabilities.
With options like the ones presented by Friedman, the potential downsides of containment and deterrence (see recent blog posts on containment and deterrance here and here) sound increasingly acceptable.