Cheap talk about an expensive Iran war

While Iran is signaling once again that it’s interested in talks about its nuclear program, a prominent U.S. senator thinks he has the answer for dealing with the threat: bomb the heck out of them.

Speaking at a recent international forum, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said that “My view of military force would be not to just neutralize their nuclear program, which are probably dispersed and hardened, but to sink their navy, destroy their air force and deliver a decisive blow to the Revolutionary Guard. In other words, neuter that regime.”

How easy; why didn’t I think of that?

I really wonder how much of this super-hawk talk is serious and how much is pandering to what the speakers think the conservative public – and the Jewish community -want to hear.

I start with the premise that eliminating or severely curtailing Iran’s nuclear program isn’t a simple matter of sending in a few B-2 bombers and cruise missiles; the military experts I talk to say it will require a massive, sustained military commitment.

In other words, another long, incredibly expensive war.

But curiously, the folks most likely to advocate this option are the same ones telling us we have a runaway budget deficit that has to be dramatically cut. They’re the same ones who told us we could wage two other long and expensive wars while cutting taxes, essentially just hiding the costs using accounting gimmicks that don’t change the longterm bottom line – the costs of the war itself, the interest on the borrowed money, decades of support for wounded veterans and so on.

The Iraq adventure, according to some estimates, will cost more than $2.4 trillion when the final costs are tallied decades from now. And dealing with Iran could be a far more difficult proposition from a military point of view – unless you still believe in the perennial delusion of “pinpoint” air strikes as a universal panacea.

That’s not how the Greatest Generation did things; World War II was paid for with steep tax increases, massive bond and savings stamps campaigns and sacrifice across the economic spectrum. But that’s not how we do things anymore; now, we just borrow to pay for our wars while the war’s most enthusiastic boosters howl bloody murder about “runaway spending.”

I’m not saying it’s wrong to consider the military option against Iran, or that the Iran nuclear threat isn’t real.

I am saying that there’s a lot of evidence those most enthusiastic about the military response aren’t thinking things through – or they are, and they’re talking war not because they mean it but because it’s a cheap way of political posturing to their political base.

That leads to the interesting question of what the Democratic “shellacking” in last week’s election will mean for the Obama administration’s Iran policy.

My best guess: this was an election about domestic angst and economic fears. The last thing Obama will do two years before his own clouded reelection effort is start another war even while casting about for an exit strategy from Afghanistan and trying to figure out how to pay for that and Iraq.

Maybe he’ll toughen up his rhetoric, but I don’t see that terrifying an Iranian leadership that’s been listening to empty threats for three decades. The best bet may still be the possibility tightened, if imperfect sanctions will push Tehran into real negotiations, not the cat-and-mouse game they’ve played in the past.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.