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There’s Wrong and Then There’s Wrong

By Taylor Marvin

Washington Post columnist David S. Broder thinks the United States should attack Iran to, in part, help spark economic recovery:

“What else might affect the economy? The answer is obvious, but its implications are frightening. War and peace influence the economy.

Look back at FDR and the Great Depression. What finally resolved that economic crisis? World War II.

Here is where Obama is likely to prevail. With strong Republican support in Congress for challenging Iran’s ambition to become a nuclear power, he can spend much of 2011 and 2012 orchestrating a showdown with the mullahs. This will help him politically because the opposition party will be urging him on. And as tensions rise and we accelerate preparations for war, the economy will improve.

I am not suggesting, of course, that the president incite a war to get reelected. But the nation will rally around Obama because Iran is the greatest threat to the world in the young century. If he can confront this threat and contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions, he will have made the world safer and may be regarded as one of the most successful presidents in history.”

This is delusional. There’s so much wrong with this analysis it’s hard to know where to begin.

An air campaign to destroy Iranian nuclear facilities would be long, costly, and wouldn’t successfully destroy Iran’s nuclear program. Advocates of military action against Iran like to point to Israel’s 1981 strike against the Iraqi Osirak nuclear complex, a successful attack that basically ended the Iraqi nuclear development program. However, the comparisons with Osirak are a false metaphor- unlike Iraq’s, Iran’s nuclear production facilities are widespread and decentralized; it is unlikely that any such strike would decisively halt Iran’s uranium production. Because Iran’s nuclear facilities are so widespread any campaign to destroy them would be long and probably require dozens of sorties and unlike Israel’s one-mission strike on Iraq an air campaign against Iran would be a long commitment much more like NATO’s 1995 month-long bombing campaign over Bosnia. Iran possesses developed anti-aircraft defense capabilities, especially around their guarded nuclear instillations. Given how many American pilots would be flying over defended Iranian airspace it’s a given that some Americans would be shot down. Some would be killed, others would be captured. This war would have real costs, costs that most Americans for good reason aren’t prepared to bear.

Of course even if we were prepared to sacrifice American lives attacking Iran it wouldn’t be successful. Even if we could pinpoint the loction of every development site and destroy all of them with surgical strikes it would only delay, not end, Iranian bomb development. Violence destroys only facilities, not the scientific and engineering knowledge that’s a far more valualbe commodity in Iran’s nuclear quest. An American strike on Iran would also be read as unprovoked aggression by the Iranian public and send moderate Iranians to rally around the regime, ending any hopes of social change working to democratize Iran for a long time. The legitimacy a war with the United States would give Ahmadinejad and the clerics’ rule would sacrifice our greatest asset in Iran, the goodwill and democratic impulses of the modernizing and largely urban and moderte Iranian people. Broder clearly hasn’t thought this out- why else would he advocate a war with no possiblity of success that clearly isn’t worth its guaranteed costs?

Broder’s argument also doesn’t make sense from an economics standpoint. World War II helped end the Great Depression because wartime production mobilized vast sectors of the American economy with a deluge of public money. An air campaign against Iran wouldn’t lead to anything of the sort- America, it turns out, already own a lot planes and bombs and aircraft carriers, all that we would need to strike Iran. A war with Iran wouldn’t require the federal government to massively increase public spending and it wouldn’t do anything to revitialize domestic demand. It would, however, spark massive increases in oil prices, a shock that would probably deliver another devestating blow to the already weakened economy. It’s important to keep this in perspective- the economic cost of another oil shock is much more dangerous than the manageable threat of a nuclear armed Iran. More than anything else a voluntary war with Iran is a conflic we simply can’t afford. Broder’s argument that it would help drag the economy out of recession is the complete opposite of true.

If advocating a costly, hopelessly ineffectual war for doubtful economic gain isn’t morally wrong I don’t know what is. Dean Baker (via Steve Benen) says it well:

“If spending on war can provide jobs and lift the economy then so can spending on roads, weatherizing homes, or educating our kids. Yes, that’s right, all the forms of stimulus spending that Broder derided so much because they add to the deficit will increase GDP and generate jobs just like the war that Broder is advocating (which will also add to the deficit).

So, we have two routes to prosperity. We can either build up our phsyical infrastructure and improve the skills and education of our workers or we can go kill Iranians. Broder has made it clear where he stands.”

One Comment Post a comment
  1. The only word that come to mind is “wow”.
    “I am not suggesting, of course, that the president incite a war to get reelected.”
    Thank bob for “not” suggesting it than! Mr Broder seems to be living in a very morally flexible universe where human life seems dispensable at best.

    January 15, 2011

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