UPDATE: Obama won. This piece originally was titled “Does This Election Matter?” I would have done a strikethrough of the word “Does” before the “Did”, but I don’t know how to do that.
Time will tell if my worries are warranted or not. But the election has made it clear that the American people are not in a mood to be too concerned about anything that happens outside our borders. Isolationism often follows troublesome wars.
by Hans Moleman
Recently a bright young lady of my acquaintance was expressing her frustration with the present political campaigns, especially the Obama-Romney choice. She asked the question many people ask: Does it really matter?
We agreed that the economy is out of control, but also that economists don’t really know what the effects will be of any policy. As my friend Finiti says, economics, like all the “social sciences”, is not really a science. He calls it a branch of philosophy. The one thing it cannot do is conclusively answer a question about the future.
But I told her there was at least one area where I am convinced that there is a clear choice between two very different outcomes. I believe that war in the Middle East, and a possible World War, hang in the balance. And that war, like WWII, can only be prevented by those willing to use limited force before it is too late.
I cited two scenarios.
First Scenario: Obama is re-elected. Iran continues its current program of nuclear enrichment and weapons development. Israel warns that Iran is reaching the point beyond which the program cannot be stopped. Obama, to judge by his past actions, disagrees, and counsels patience and more sanctions. Obama says (privately) that if he is wrong and Israel is right, Israel will still be safe because we will deter any Iranian aggressive action.
Israel assesses the value of this assurance. It means that in the event of a successful, destructive Iranian attack on Israel, the US will retaliate with a nuclear counter-attack on Iran. Israel wonders: would Obama follow through? More importantly, would Iran believe that Obama would follow through?
What if Russia steps in and warn the US that any attack on Iran will be treated as an attack on Russia? In that case, would Obama risk a Russian counter-attack on the US just to carry out a posthumous (post-Holocaust II) commitment to punish Iran for destroying Israel?
Here the question marks stop. The clear answer is NO. US action in that case would be limited to UN resolutions, more feeble sanctions, and dithering demands that Russia stop supporting Iran.
One thing is certain. Israel knows that no other country can be counted on to prevent the annihilation of Israel. Just as Hitler knew in the 1930’s that no other nation would take action to prevent the annihilation of Europe’s Jews. Israel was founded on this principle. And Iran knows it as surely as Hitler did.
So Israel will decide Obama’s promises are not sufficient to guarantee Israel’s survival, and that it must act. Israel’s highly effective but limited military forces can severely impair Iran’s nuclear weapons program, but cannot deal a knockout punch. It would take repeated hits, at dreadful cost. Russia has already bolstered Iran’s air defenses. And Iran would feel no restraint in counter-attacking Israeli cities.
Could Israel expect Obama to stand by them while they use up their air forces in repeated attacks? Obama has made it clear that if Israel acts alone, it will be on its own.
Would the Arab street, even the “Arab Springtime” street, miss the opportunity to join what could be the final anti-Israel War? Would the US and Russia eventually be drawn in? What do you think?
Second scenario: Romney is elected. Assuming Iran continues its defiant path (not the smart move, but then we are talking about a maniacal regime), Israel and the US execute a joint air strike. With US airpower included, a devastating first strike becomes a real possibility. Russia would fume, the UN and the Arab states would go into dramatic hysterics (masking their real relief). With the US involved, the Arab states would think twice about joining the fray. And the air attack(s) could be conducted fairly quickly.
Could such an attack actually put Iran’s weapons program out of business? Not forever, no. But it would be a long time before they could remove the rubble and start over. It would not require “boots on the ground”, since neither occupation nor regime change are intended. (Bear in mind that Israeli air attacks stopped a Syrian nuclear weapons program in 2007 and an Iraqi program in 1981. Neither attack led to “boots on the ground”. In both cases, a single strike was sufficient to convince the dictators involved that it was not worth starting over. To this day, neither state has nuclear weapons.)
And the world’s reaction? Completely predictable. Demonstrations throughout the world and Berkeley, UN resolutions, crocodile tears for the poor Iranians, bad feelings all around. Those who agree that a nuclear Iran would be a threat to peace will appreciate our action, while condemning us. Those who hate us now would try their best to hate us even more (though how I don’t know how you top the current slogans like “Death to America!”) Those who hate us and do not fear us now would at least learn to fear us again.
There is a third scenario of sorts: it is the expectation of US foreign policy “realists” (possibly including Obama himself), where Iran builds its nuclear weapons, but is deterred from using them out of fear of Israeli nuclear retaliation. This is the “The Jews Got Themselves into This; Let the Jews Get Themselves Out Of It”, or Walt-Mearsheimer rosy scenario.
There are several reasons to worry about this one.
First, Deterrence is a rational strategy, and Iran is a regime founded on insanity. Its official ideology sees the successful end of history in a climactic war of annihilation between Muslims and Jews. It believes that the “12th Imam” is only waiting for this genocidal war before he reappears and leads all Muslims to heaven. Whether fear of retaliation will work against such apocalyptic millenarians is a fair question. But it must be recognized that this is not the Soviet Union we are talking about.
Second, Israel is a tiny country. At 8000 square miles, it is smaller than New Jersey (and with fewer people). It has only three cities larger than Lincoln, Nebraska. It is, in other words, an ideal first-strike destroy-them-with-one-blow target.
There is yet a fourth scenario, built on the same kind of cheery optimism as the third one. In this, Obama’s cold shoulder to Netanyahu, and Israel’s concern about its situation, are all play-acting. Obama and Bibi have privately agreed that when Israel decides it is time, they will act together to carry out the attack. (This is my Second, or Romney scenario, above.) This seems most unlikely to me. The obvious Obama-Bibi rift has been a virtual green light to Iran to push ahead on its current path. Perhaps it is some convoluted “rope-a-dope for building Iranian confidence. But if it is play-acting, it is damn convincing.
Interestingly, this ultra-hopeful scenario is the belief of every Jewish Democrat I know. When I ask them why they believe this, they say Obama could not abandon Israel. Equally interesting, I do not know a non-Jewish friend of Israel who buys this scenario.
So there it is, my bright young friend. At least one short (yes, it could have been much longer) answer to your question. This election IS important, and there is a real choice to be made.
Go with God.