By Daniel Pipes
I do not customarily offer advice to a president whose election I opposed, whose goals I fear and whose policies I work against. But here is a way for Barack Obama to salvage his tottering administration by taking a step that protects the US and its allies.
If Obama’s personality, identity and celebrity captivated a majority of the American electorate in 2008, those qualities proved ruefully deficient in 2009. He failed to deliver on employment and health care, he failed in foreign policy forays small (e.g., landing the 2016 Olympics) and large (relations with China and Japan). His counterterrorism record barely passes the laugh test.
This poor performance has caused an unprecedented collapse in the polls and the loss of three major by-elections, culminating two weeks ago in an astonishing senatorial defeat in Massachusetts. Obama’s attempts to “reset” his presidency will likely fail if he focuses on economics, where he is just one of many players.
He needs a dramatic gesture to change the public perception of him as a lightweight, bumbling ideologue, preferably in an arena where the stakes are high, where he can take charge and where he can trump expectations.
Such an opportunity does exist: Obama can order the US military to destroy Iran’s nuclear weapons capacity.
Circumstances are propitious. First, US intelligence agencies have reversed the preposterous 2007 National Intelligence Estimate that claimed with “high confidence” that Teheran had “halted its nuclear weapons program.” No one (other than the Iranian rulers and their agents) denies that the regime is rushing headlong to build a nuclear arsenal.
Second, if the apocalyptic-minded leaders in Teheran get the Bomb, they render the Middle East yet more volatile and dangerous. They might deploy these weapons in the region, leading to massive death and destruction. Or they could launch an electromagnetic pulse attack on the US, devastating the country. By eliminating the Iranian nuclear threat, Obama protects the homeland and sends a message to America’s friends and enemies.
THIRD, POLLING shows long-standing American backing for an attack on the Iranian nuclear infrastructure.
• A Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll in January 2006 found that 57% of Americans favored military intervention if Teheran pursues a program that could enable it to build nuclear arms.
• A Zogby International poll in October 2007 found that 52% of likely voters supported a US military strike to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon; 29% opposed such a step.
• McLaughlin & Associates in May 2009 asked whether people would support “using the [US] military to attack and destroy the facilities in Iran which are necessary to produce a nuclear weapon”; 58% of 600 likely voters supported the use of force and 30% opposed it.
• Fox News in September 2009 asked: “Do you support or oppose the United States taking military action to keep Iran from getting nuclear weapons?” Sixty-one percent of 900 registered voters supported military action and 28% opposed it.
• Pew Research Center in October 2009 asked which is more important, “to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, even if it means taking military action” or “to avoid a military conflict with Iran, even if it means they may develop nuclear weapons”; of 1,500 respondents, 61% favored the first reply and 24% the second.
Not only does a strong majority – 57%, 52%, 58%, 61% and 61% – already favor using force, but after a strike Americans will presumably rally around the flag, pushing that number much higher.
Fourth, were the US strike limited to taking out Iran’s nuclear facilities, and not aspiring to regime change, it would require few “boots on the ground” and entail relatively few casualties, making an attack politically more palatable.
Just as 9/11 caused voters to forget George W. Bush’s meandering early months, a strike on the Iranian facilities would dispatch Obama’s feckless first year down the memory hole and transform the domestic political scene. It would sideline health care, prompt Republicans to work with Democrats, make netroots squeal, independents reconsider and conservatives swoon.
But the chance to do good and do well is fleeting. As the Iranians improve their defenses and approach weaponization, the window of opportunity is closing. The time to act is now or, on Obama’s watch, the world will soon become a much more dangerous place.