When Israel Attacks Iran, Will It Help Obama or Romney?

One of Iran's nuclear facilities, near Qom

Three assumptions are implicit in the headline, and I feel pretty confident about all three.

Let’s start with the easy assumption: Romney will be the Republican nominee. I declared Romney the inevitable victor way back in January, and I see no reason to change my mind just because the underlying reality is having trouble keeping up with my insight.

Second assumption: Israel will attack Iran.  Here I’ve actually changed my mind since I wrote “Pace Bolton, I’m Betting Against an Israeli Air Strike on Iran’s Nuke Facilities” in July 2009.   Way back then, in the wake of Obama’s inexplicable tardiness in condemning the theocracy’s crackdown of what didn’t quite become the Second Iranian Revolution, America’s greatest former UN Ambassador said:

Iran’s nuclear threat was never in doubt during its presidential campaign, but the post-election resistance raised the possibility of some sort of regime change. That prospect seems lost for the near future or for at least as long as it will take Iran to finalize a deliverable nuclear weapons capability.

Accordingly, with no other timely option, the already compelling logic for an Israeli strike is nearly inexorable. Israel is undoubtedly ratcheting forward its decision-making process. President Obama is almost certainly not.

That inexorability, which I didn’t buy back then, has had nearly three years to continue inexorabilizing.  Back then, Obama’s emerging lack of support for the Jewish state seemed to me to be the main non-logistical barrier to an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.  Obama still is not the world’s biggest fan of Israel, but his attitude toward Iran certainly has hardened.  In a long and thoughtful overview this week of the recent rhetoric, one of Meryl Yourish’s co-bloggers wrote:

Obama stated quite forcefully that he is not going to abide a situation where US will have to deal with containment of nuclear Iran. On the face of it, this is as clear-cut declaration of intentions as anyone would hope to get from a leader of the superpower.

Obama may not want an Israeli attack, he may still be trying to dissuade the Israelis from attacking, but it would be hard for him to take any action against Israel if it attacks.  And if you have any doubt that Israel has the guts to attack eventually, I commend to you Jeffrey Goldberg’s column this week, “Israelis Grow Confident Strike on Iran’s Nukes Can Work.”

The third headline assumption is a bit more subtle.  I’m assuming not just that the attack will happen, but also that it will happen before November 2012.  Once upon a time I might have thought that Israel would delay until 2013 in the hope of acting under a more supportive U.S. administration.  But there’s obviously no guarantee of a Republican victory, and a re-elected Obama who never has to campaign again might become even less sympathetic to Israel.

So what’s the answer to the headline query — will an Israeli attack on Iran help Obama or Romney?  Hell, I don’t know.

Tempting though it is to end the post there, I may as well share the few ideas I have on the matter.  Obviously, who it helps will be affected by what happens after the Israelis attack.  Iran’s Supreme Theocrat Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said yesterday:

“We do not have atomic weapons and we will not build one. But against an attack by enemies — to defend ourselves either against the U.S. or Zionist regime — we will attack them on the same level that they attack us.”

In Iran-speak, Israel is the Little Satan and America is the Big Satan. It would be suicidal for the Iranians to overtly attack American forces while launching a retaliation against Israel — but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen.  Keep in mind that we’re dealing with a culture that glorifies martyrdom.

In wartime, Americans tend to rally around the president, at least initially.  More than two-thirds of Americans supported the beginning of George Bush’s war in Iraq. So unless Obama utterly abandons Israel in its time of greatest need, I tend to think an Israeli attack will favor Obama’s re-election.  Sure would take a lot of attention away from the economy and Obamacare.

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