Exit Strategies

Why Obama Won't Bomb Iran

The webzine Foreign Policy is a little too globalist and USA Today-ee for my taste, but Stephen Walt is a real bright spot.  A few days ago he made a numerical argument about how silly it is for the US to be worrying about the military capabilities of Iran.  And for all the talk about the Iranian regime being made up of insane irrational actors, Walt reminds us

Iran hasn't invaded anyone since the Islamic revolution, although it has supported a number of terrorist organizations and engaged in various forms of covert action.  The United States has also backed terrorist groups and conducted covert ops during this same period, and attacked a number of other countries, including Panama, Grenada, Serbia, Sudan, Somalia, Iraq (twice), and Afghanistan.

By any objective measure, therefore, Iran isn't even on the same page with the United States in terms of latent power, deployed capabilities, or the willingness to use them.

One place I differ with Walt is when he says “the idea of preventive war against Iran [isn’t] going to go away just because Barack Obama [is] president.”  Fighting a preemptive war isn’t something a president can sort of be nudged into, like raising or cutting the top tax rate by a few percent or giving a chest thumping speech to the Nobel committee.  A president really has to have his heart into it the way Bush’s was.

More importantly is the psycho-sociological reason Obama won’t bomb Iran.  Anybody who talked to a liberal during the Bush years knows that their biggest complaint was that the president had ruined America’s reputation abroad.  And the main reason for anti-Americanism abroad was the Iraq war.  Obama is part of the SWPL culture which lives and dies by the opinions of Europe. Since he has to deal with political realities he obviously can’t go completely isolationist, but he’s not going to attack another country unprovoked either.  Not if it means losing the rock star reception in Berlin.

All in all, I’d be shocked if America actually struck Iran during an Obama administration regardless of what the Israel lobby wanted.