Tonight we're going to hear a lot from each candidate about what (a) ought to have been done (which, you know, can be fixed if we have a time machine) and (b) what microscopically little each candidate will commit to in the future.
If Mitt Romney can help it, he will not vow to attack Iran on day one--even if he's thinking he will--because saying so would be tipping his hand egregiously. He will try to let people who think Iran should be bombed believe he will do it. He will try to let people think that other methods should be tried first believe he will do that. He will not show us what he really thinks because, lacking the ultra-classified intelligence and easy access to the entire best-of-breed military staff ... he does not know yet what he'll do.
The is the same for Obama: whatever he's decided ... we won't know--not for sure.
Here are The Omnivore's Points.
An attack on Iran will be a nightmare of biblical proportions Their client actors in Syria will immediately expand the war to Israel. Oil production will be hit--explicitly in Iraq--if they can--and they probably can. Gas prices will skyrocket--possibly north of 8.00 per gallon (says I) and the chaos will be unleashed. Where the US (and any allies) will hope for a limited air war, we will quickly find ourselves engaged directly in Afghanistan, with whatever remains inside Iraq, and any allies or embassies will be under attack.
Whoever presides over this attack--which may well be unavoidable--will preside over a massive debacle. It may be necessary. It will be ugly. Incredibly ugly. If anyone thinks that the nearby Arab states will back us? Think again--Iran is not Libya. Although there will be back-channel agreement there will not be vocal support for regime change against Iran. The attack will be used as a symbol of West-on-East aggression for the next century and we will lose support of Iranian moderates and students who, right now, are surprisingly pro-western.
A couple of other things to note:
- Iran's currency is in free-fall right now due to sanctions. This is not toppling the regime but there was actual unrest earlier this month and an attempt to shore up their currency by issuing dollars resulted in a making-it-worse run on the dollar exchanges. These sanctions are unlike what we have seen before. It is too early to say "they have worked"--but they are dangerous (they are against the Iranian central bank--which is new).
- The cyber-weapon Stuxnet was released against Iran's nuclear program and has done serious damage. You can say what you want about Obama's posture towards Iran (or radical Islam), assuming this was not done under Bush (which, you know, maybe) or entirely by Israel (which, while possible, is not what we're hearing), Obama has not sat by while Iran developed a bomb. The US administration has taken outside-the-box action to damage their ability to enrich uranium. That's important.
The Omnivore's Position
I believe that we will see / detect a "sprint for a bomb" and should attack then if they don't stop when ordered. There may be some other red-lines (creation of facilities we cannot monitor, for example) or monitored enrichment past X% (not 90, though--at 90 it's bomb grade). Articulating red lines is a good political move--but the ultimate move is this: make it clear that playing chicken will result in an attack--and that that attack will remove the leadership. That may be difficult to do--but it's not impossible and the moderates might possibly black it. Unfortunately, you can't say that in a debate.
Afghanistan and Pakistan
If Romney hits Obama on this it will probably be over (a) the surge having "achieved nothing" and (b) negotiating with the Taliban (or, rather, trying to).
The Omnivore's Position
Obama has done the right thing aggressively expanding the drone war and it should be continued. It is effective, kills the enemy chain of command, and does not typically result in dead Americans. I don't think the "Go Big" strategy (the surge proposed by military commanders)--along with Go Long (plan to be there forever) or Go Home was a mistake even if it didn't accomplish much. Yes, Obama holds the responsibility for that--but, no, I don't think Romney (or anyone else) would've done better. Go Home would've been a mistake.
Miss-handling the Arab Spring
While I'm sure there is a solid case that can be made that Obama "gave away" the Arab Spring, I've yet to see it. I saw several reasonably convincing statements that we should've supported Mubarak longer than we did--that we first said he was an ally and then threw him under the bus too soon. I think it's clear that radical Muslim forces were well prepared to take over various nations--they'd been playing that game for keeps far longer than idealistic students who were the educated core of a lot of the revolutions. However, a lot of this amounts to arm-chair quarterbacking. Perhaps Obama was far less ready to go anti-Islam than someone else would've been--but I'm not sure of that.
The Omnivore's Position
As much as I wanted to intervene during the Green Protests in Iran, I think it was wise not to beyond making sure Twitter and Facebook stayed up. There's nothing like an outside force to drive unity and like it or not, the US has a bad rep when it comes to interfering in Iranian politics. I think that Mubarak was a pro-US dictator and was someone we did need to deal with--and dealt with profitably--but could we really support him once the uprising caught fire? No--not with a straight face. Someone will have to show me a clear and unambiguous line that, when crossed, changes our support for me to think that anyone made an obvious mistake here.
Libya Intervention and Benghazi
The Libya intervention was a model of American meddling: it was done with everyone's approval, it didn't get Americans killed, it got Kadaffi. That's the gold star. The fact that now we have to deal with Al Queada in the region is sadly predictable--but Kadaffi machine-gunning civilians is not an improvement. Discussion has to revolve around other options (which it mostly has not).
The Omnivore's Opinion
The Ambassador fuck up was, yes, a fuck up. And the administration's story has been weird. It seems that now there is some question about what the CIA actually said--and the released papers seem to back up the administration. I don't know if that's true but I do know this: if Republican Darrell Issa releasing documents that endangered people who helped America is a colossal fuck up that he should resign for ... okay. I don't think it is--but I think it's a fuck up. I think our protection of the ambassador was a fuck up. I think both are fuck-ups but they only become "resign-now" level when you can draw shaky connect-the-dots arguments (for Democrats it's that Republican Witch Hunters will sacrifice ANYONE to get Obama--for Republicans it's that Obama is so pro-Islamist that he'll sacrifice our ambassador).
As I don't see it, I gig the administration for a mistake and I think (although I have not studied all the relevant talking points) that releasing the names of our collaboration was a mistake. One got four Americans killed. One maybe got several Libyan allies killed. On the balance I'd rather not lose Americans but without connecting the dots to a larger fuck-up, something I am leery of as a general methodology, I am not super het-up about either one.