When he’s forced to make a decision, will Obama declare war on Iran?
On March 1st, President Obama heard an earful of an anti-war position from a citizen obviously concerned that Obama may, in fact, support armed conflict with Iran.
“Use your leadership! No war in Iran!” a woman yelled. “Nobody has announced a war, young lady,” Obama responded, to laughter and cheers. ”But we appreciate your sentiment. You’re jumping the gun a little bit there.”
The speculation over what’s in President Obama’s mind on this matter relies on highly ideological evidence—from both the left and the right—which doesn’t make the speculation wrong, rather, surprisingly nuanced. The anti-war left, like the commentators over at Alex Cockburn’s Counterpunch and AntiWar.org, believe that it’s only a matter of time for Obama to announce a war with Iran over the belief that they have a comprehensive nuclear capability. The notion that the US is worried about Ahmadinejad’s administration nuking Israel is a distraction and a lie.
Furthermore, the US is actively looking for a war, which it consistently has done in this region and elsewhere, for both geopolitical reasons and to alter the power dynamics of global energy resources. From this perspective, Obama is all about the re-election vice, and starting a war is popular among the institutions that pay for his campaign machine. Some are even assuming that Obama is concerned with the political positioning of his foreign policy platform in relation to his Republican opponent who will be “more hawkish against Iran.”
Interestingly, the right-wing largely agrees with the bottom line scenario identified by this block of the left. Obama is “willing to start a war” with Iran, not necessarily for the “national interest” (meaning the interests of domestic power), but simply to get re-elected. The vice of re-election will be too much for Obama to ignore, just like his inability to resist the temptation to hand out lump sums of money to poor people for health insurance. Everything he’s done with regards to Iranian policy has been a joke: from the brutal sanctions to his airstrike-less rhetoric. Anything less than Cambodia-style carpet bombing in the discussion is simply anti-American.
But this kind of speculation fails to take the president’s personality into account. From a historical perspective, what do we know about Obama’s capacity to make critical decisions? One can probably conclude that the man is not reckless. He often touts the fact that he didn’t vote for the American invasion of Iraq, and carefully treads around issues of intense political debate to test the waters (remember his rhetoric on abortion at a speech at Notre Dame: “it’s a complicated issue”)?
The point is, Obama isn’t stupid. He can go to AIPAC and vet the Israeli lobby, making the ultra-jingoistic case that the might of the American military will obliterate Iran as a nation state if it violates the newly-established sanctions. But if Obama’s rhetoric meant anything, this country would have authentic universal healthcare by now, the year of his potential reelection. Furthermore, he relies heavily on the advice of those around him, and we know that he listens closely. It’s likely that Obama doesn’t need to see the recent full-page ad taken by the National Iranian American Council in the Washington Post, which quotes the pragmatic opposition of US generals to launching a war.
Thus, if Obama didn’t support a war with Iraq on pragmatic grounds, which was a defenseless and desolate country, it’s not likely that he will support attacking an Iranian population united by their hatred of US imperialism in the region. Obama’s foreign policy hasn’t taken the same shape as the Bush administration’s, for better or worse. His brand of carrying out American operations has been uncontroversially covert, from bombing the hills of Afghanistan and supporting the dictatorship in Bahrain to shamelessly droning teenagers in Yemen.
The major reason for this change is most likely just insightful analysis on his behalf. Carrying out a covert foreign policy, even if it means becoming what Politico’s Josh Gerstein calls “the worst” White House when it comes to transparency, is far easier than doing what Bush did. In many respects, the Bush administration’s foreign policy was much more honest than Obama’s. As many media insiders have noted, Bush never would’ve gotten away with clandestine activities like the Obama administration’s signature drone strikes.
To gain support for his obscene policies, the Bush White House had to really work at changing people’s minds, and push national messages like “support our troops” through the media’s “gatekeeping”. It didn’t take long for the war drum and corresponding news media accompaniment to radicalize a passive American population into one supportive of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But Obama saw through this. Sure, the people could support a “decisive” cowboy defending them from the Muslim terrorists that hate us for our freedom—but only for awhile. The public support was predictably superficial, so Obama didn’t buy in (and opposed the invasion), and it paid off for him exponentially during the 2008 presidential primary against Hillary Clinton.
Obama is too smart. He knows what he can get away with, and precisely what he can’t. Ignore his rhetoric and look closely at his record. This president can’t get away with an invasion of Iran, and he won’t start one.