On How War with Iran might Destroy the United States

David Broder is a respected political analyst. I once had breakfast with him and I like him. I often think his columns are on the mark.

So I am sure he by now regrets his piece on Saturday in the Washington Post on how Obama can get the country out of the economic doldrums.

Broder says that there are two engines for recovery from a Depression or a deep recession. One is the market workings of the business cycle, which are mysterious. The other is war, or even, apparently, preparation for it. Since, he says, Obama cannot really affect the business cycle, his best option would be to prepare for conflict with Iran. He does not appear to envisage a war but seems to think just getting the country on a war footing would do the trick. I don’t understand the American fascination with war. We’ve been at war one way or another all my life. Is that normal? And nowadays the politicians have pulled off the trick of having us be at war and not even notice it. Almost nobody reading this could even tell me how many US troops died in Afghanistan last month, or even how many are there and which provinces exactly they are fighting in. Broder can only broach this absent-minded atrocity because we have all developed war dementia– it is off our minds, as the Latin indicates.

Broder is not correct that the president has no levers over the expansion of the economy. There are such things as Keynesian processes, and arguably if Obama had followed Paul Krugman’s advice and done a really big government intervention, we might be further ahead in the recovery. Of course, if Obama loses the House on Tuesday, he will face new restraints. But even Republicans want jobs in their districts, and Obama will not be helpless in that regard.

Since Broder is my elder and we both lived through the Vietnam era, I am puzzled as to why he thinks wars always are good for the economy. Last I knew, economic historians believe that Vietnam caused an inflationary spiral and so was bad for the economy. World War II could hardly have been worse for the British economy, and left the British so destitute that they welcomed decolonization as the end of a burden. Wars interact with the specific form of the economy and with demography to have their economic impact. I don’t think Broder’s generalization about war and economic expansion holds up to critical scrutiny.

I can think of a specific way in which even for Obama to whisper the words “war” and “Iran” in the same sentence would be very, very bad for the US economy. It would certainly cause oil prices to rise immediately. Petroleum is how Americans transport goods, and it goes into plastics and fertilizer. It is a non-trivial expense. We may pay $180 bn. for imported crude this year, and that does not count what we spend on our own US-produced petroleum, ethanol, etc. Any rumor of war in the Persian Gulf, where over 60% of the world’s proven oil reserves lie, would send the price skyrocketing on speculation. We could see a return to the $140 a barrel of 2008 (December 2010 futures were about $81 a barrel on Friday, which is a high price compared to the averages in 2009). An oil price spike caused a lot of economic malaise in the US in the 1970s, and it could help push us into a double dip deep recession. Anyone who would like to relive through October 2008, raise your hand.

So Broder’s suggestion would send us out on a tree limb and instruct us to saw it off close to the trunk.

A lot of people underestimate the size of Iran. It is roughly three times the size of Iraq. It is as big as Spain, France and Germany taken together. Its population, of some 73 mn., would make it the second most populous country in Europe if it were in that continent. Attacking it and occupying it would thus be three times harder than what we just went through in Iraq. And, Iranians are very nationalistic and mobilized, and would put up widespread and determined guerrilla resistance. There would be no equivalent of the pro-American Shiites of Iraq who were grateful to the foreign occupier for ridding them of the Sunni oppressor. Whatever they think of their government, some 90% of Iranians are Shiite Muslims. Moreover, that Iran is the largest Shiite country makes it an opinion leader for other Shiites in the region, a form of massive soft power that can be turned on the US.

In addition, Mr. Broder may have noticed that the NYT reported that Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan receives $2 million a year in influence peddling funds from Iran. It may also be worth pointing out that one of the few prosperous cities and provinces of Afghanistan is Herat, into which a lot of Iranian money comes. In short, I don’t think Afghanistan goes well if Iran decides to play spoiler. At the moment, Tehran is tacitly allied with the US in supporting the government of Hamid Karzai and some of his warlords, as the best alternative to Pakistani-dominated hyper-Sunni Taliban they are likely to get. But the US is already accusing Iran of stirring up Pashtuns against the US from time to time, just to encourage the departure of the American military. It could get way worse.

Some proportion of Pakistani Shiites would also mobilize to defend Iran from the US, putting US supply lines from Karachi to the Khyber Pass in further danger (there is a big Shiite community in Karachi). All we need right now would be to unite the hard line Sunnis and the hard line Shiites both against us at once.

Moreover, Iran showed its political importance in the region recently in convincing Muqtada al-Sadr at long last to back Nuri al-Maliki for prime minister of Iraq. It is not a done deal, but Muqtada does not like al-Maliki at all, and if Iran could persuade him, it shows real moxie. Moreover, whole divisions of the Iraqi military are infiltrated by former Shiite militiamen who think well of Iran. I was told that many Iraqi border guards on the Iranian border actually go east for rest and recreation; they are Shiites, some of whom resided in exile in Iran, and they feel comfortable there.

In short, Iraq does not go well, and the US cannot hope to get its troops out on the present timetable, if Iran decides to play spoiler.

I won’t go into Iranian assets in the Levant, such as Hizbullah and to some extent Hamas, or their influence in Bahrain, where the Shiite Wifaq Party just did very well in elections. Shiite-majority Bahrain is host to the US Fifth Fleet, which has a naval base near the capital of Manama. If Bahrain Shiites got very, very upset, I think that base would run into trouble.

And so on and so forth. The Iranians cannot actually close the Straits of Hormuz, which are 26 miles wide. But they do not have to. All they have to do is contribute to another oil spike (which benefits them in a way that cutting off oil does not), and make covert trouble and tie us down like a hapless Gulliver tied down by the Lilliputians.

I can’t think of anything that would be worse for the US economy, or for Obama’s prospects for a second term, than going to a war footing with Iran. And, my own experience is that if you go to a war footing with a country, you have to be prepared for things spinning out of control and into actual war. Since Americans go running to their congressmen demanding a repeal of the Bill of Rights every time there is a little pipe bomb somewhere, anything that might cause terrorism on US soil is deadly to our over 200 year old Republic. My guess is that a third war right about now, for the reasons outlined above, would just about finish us off as a nation.

I hope Mr. Broder will give this matter some more thought and come back with a future op-ed that contradicts his recent effort. We all make mistakes. What is bad is not to recognize it.

57 Responses

  1. Well argued. The USA belief in war as an economic panacea (Broder) or as a macho thing to do (many: millions for defense, not a dime in tribute — my country right or wrong, my mother drunk or sober — USA and Israel rise or fall together — a lot of people are easily energized for war, especially with a “volunteer” army in which they need not serve, paid for by ever-growing debt to China as our economy appears ever less successful) is not evidence-based. It is a religion, whether of the economists or of the sabre-rattlers.

    One bad effect of all our wars (and of our bad economy) is that the USA seems incapable of stepping out of its spoiler role w.r.t. global warming; it is as if we are saying, “don’t bother me, I’m busy” when the threat described by scientists as the likely and even the present-day effects of global warming is real and immense and the reasons for starting (and for continuing) war with Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran are trumped-up, silly, ephemeral, ideological.

  2. While David Broder presumably bases his assessment on the awkward reality that Americans are far more willing to spend huge amounts of money to kill other people than to help each other, his choice of Iran as prospective target rests not only on pragmatics (we have no obvious reason to invade Paraguay or Estonia) but on his close association with the same cadre of neocons who promoted the invasion of Iraq. They form the same circle, talk with the same sources, draw assistance from related groups, and otherwise share a common orientation toward friends and enemies.

    The potential for disruption of the West’s oil-based economy is quite obvious. But equally important is Broder’s apparent disinterest in Iran’s relationship with China. Why would China lend money to the US so it could attack Iran? Is he counting on the deep economic interests of American elites in China to offset China’s interest in Iranian oil and gas? Even modest Chinese assistance with rocket guidance and propulsion systems would enable the Iranians to dump radioactive dust and debris all over American bases in the Middle East, oil facilities, and Israeli cities. We have no reason to expect hostile action from the Iranians in the absence of US provocation. If we exercise poor judgment we will have only ourselves, and our David Broders, to blame.

  3. Juan, your first paragraph has struck me as shock and awe for which you should wear a hair shirt as punishment. But I did read, and agree with the remainder of your post, except that your final paragraph is wishful thinking.

    By the way, Paul Krugman made light of Broder’s column at his Blog, which is the proper weight to be given to Broder these days. (Juan, don’t forget Broder’s adulation with everything Bush/Cheney for 8 years.)

  4. While the US certainly has the capability to bomb the heck out of Iran, killing thousands if not hundred’s of thousands of humans and destroying lots of structures, the ONLY way to prevent Iran from massively retaliating against the US would be for the US to invade and hold Iran.

    Per the US military’s own planning manuals (partially written by Gen David H. Petraeus), the MINIMUM number of US soldiers that would be needed to invade and hold Iran would be … 3.65 MILLION! This assumes one US soldier for every 20 humans that need to be conquered. This also assumes a somewhat docile population (which is probably NOT a valid assumption in Iran). The reality is the US would probably need closer to one US soldier for every 10 Iranians meaning the US would have to draft over 7 MILLION people. If the US tried to invade with only a million or so US soldiers, they would get slaughtered.

    Of course since Iran is such a major threat, I am sure Americans will be more than willing to sacrifice 7 MILLION young Americans in a fight to the death. (sarcasm)

    Attacking Iran also assumes that China and Russia will remain neutral which is very probably a completely invalid assumption, especially after the US kills lots of Russian and Chinese citizens in Iran. Both Russia and China have the capability to stop the US in its tracks militarily and economically.

    Every Iran war simulation that has been done so far, has totally ignored the reaction of Russia and China and in every one that I know about, the US (and Israel) lose very, very badly.

    As for stopping the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf area, that is actually easier than Professor Cole thinks it is. Ever since the Iraq invasion of Iran, Iran has been concentrating on designing and manufacturing thousands of inexpensive, but fairly accurate missiles. Iran now has more than enough missiles to destroy ALL the oil production capability in the Gulf.

    One of the things that BP very cleverly demonstrated in the Gulf of Mexico is how insanely easy it is to destroy oil production infrastructure and how expensive and time consuming it is to try to replace it, especially if someone is trying to keep it destroyed. Thousands of cheap missiles TRUMP expensive airplanes and anti-missile systems.

    Also keep in mind that the moment that US bombs fall in Iran, every insurance policy on every ship anywhere near the Persian Gulf IMMEDIATELY expires. That is, the ships will have no insurance (acts of war are an immediate termination of insurance). I doubt if very many ship owners will be eager to risk their large investments. I suspect most ship owners will simply “get out of Dodge” and wait for the dust to settle, thereby spiking the world price of oil, even if Iran dos not destroy the oil infrastructure. Note that the Persian Gulf is very shallow and ships have very little maneuvering room, so they are easy to target with all those cheap, accurate supersonic missiles Iran has.

    If the US nukes Iran, then the US is done for, because China will NOT like losing 10% of its energy supply nor the resulting nuclear contamination that will flow over China (BTW that massive nuclear contamination will ALSO reach the US within a few days, so we would literally be nuking ourselves).

    The bottom line is there is no upside to the US going to war with Iran, ZERO. No matter what type of war the US starts with Iran, the blow-back will be so devastating the US probably will not survive. It certainly will NOT thrive.

    Some little side notes for everyone to think about …

    – How high would the price of diesel fuel have to go before the entire US transportation system stops? All US trucks and virtually all the US freight trains require diesel fuel to move even one foot.

    – How much of your food is transported by diesel fuel? Unless you live on a farm, the answer is near 100%.

    – When the price of diesel gets high enough to stop the trucks and trains, how long before you run out of food?

    Think about that and decide if going to war with Iran is worth it.

    Personally, I think we should remove ALL sanctions on Iran, provide them with all the nuclear fuel they want and have full and complete trade. 50 years of embargo on Cuba have not worked and trying to “punish” Iran will not work either and going to war would be even worse for the US.

  5. Dear Professor Cole

    You might find this antidote to the militarist articles of use.

    link to foreignpolicy.com

    The first analysis of Obama’s options after the elections that suggested that attacking Iran was the thing to do appeared in one of Stratfor’s analyses about a month ago.

    Since then it has been supported by the likes of the delightful Caroline Glick in Jerusalem Post which may suggest where the idea originated or found traction.

    This lazy thinking by David Broder overlooks the other op ed piece in NYTimes recently pointing out that the US infrastucture like the UK’s is a hundred years old and starting to fall apart.

    If you want to stimulate the US economy you can do the same as Adolf Hitler and build infrastructure. Admittedly his autobahns were designed to allow a much larger repeat of Ludendorf’s achievement at Massurian lakes where he switched armies between fronts on interior lines on railways thus allowing him to defeat a numerically superior force piecemeal.

    Keynes, as I remember it, approved.

    Of course if Mr Murdoch manages to take over all the world’s communications media we may hear the endless drumbeat of war for quite some time. Shades of the Daily Mail campaign for more Dreadnoughts before world war one.

  6. Dear Juan:

    Ok, you are the ME expert, not I, but I think you are presenting the optimistic scenario…..Iran would most likely attempt to attack Saudi oil fields, perhaps Israel and, if the stuff I read has any credibility, they might very well have the missile capacity to take out a carrier or two……thats 5,000 folks, 130 or so planes. I suppose replacing the carrier and F 18s with F 35s would create jobs.

    Whatever the many faults of the Obama administration, and we all knew Afghanistan was a dumb idea, they are not the crazies of the Bush era. I can’t imagine they would engage in such lunacy.

    Perhaps Broder is starting to lose it w/age.

    Keep up good work,

    Lauren

  7. The vast majority of Sunnis are thoroughly tired of what Juan describes as “hyper-Sunni”ism – it is now seen as a construct to vindicate clerical rule (which Khomeini arguably invented anyway) – and also the Nejdi regime in Saudi Arabia which fools very few. Interestingly, it has only gained traction in poorly educated, land-locked xenophobic rural interiors. These are often places where the mere suggestion that conservative tribal tradition may not be precisely the same thing as the purest interpretation of Islam is regarded as high treason. Clerics seeking to elevate their status adjust their positions accordingly. The empowerment of such regimes has been a guarantee of division.
    However, the popularity of Hassan Nasrullah outside of Lebanon, amongst Sunnis, demonstrates that a very large number are ready to move away from this, irrespective of what some clerics like to say about what they imagine Shia get up to.

    There are plenty of bizzare practices in the Sunni world they could preoccupy themselves with, some more akin to what you’d expect to find in Haiti as opposed to their bastion of monotheism.

    However there are faults on both sides – I’ve seen first hand some pretty provocative material distributed to young Shia students in the ’80s designed to turn them against Sunnis, containing pretty ludicrous allegations.

    The point is that in the Muslim world, division appears to be some kind of industry to elevate the mediocre – an opportunity they only have on the face of tyranny. But now an ever larger number are seeing through it. The Iranian leader may seem foolish and the regime corrupt and without any mandate. The Saudi princes appear abominable, arrogant and decadent. The so-called ‘Jihadis’ commit acts that make us all feel revulsion and then leave the rest of the Muslims to deal with the consequences – quite deliberately. Increasingly these are seen as just third rate opportunists trying to play an unstable and potentially fluid situation to their advantage.

    Prior to the invasion, Sunni / Shia mixed marriages in Iraq had become completely normal. After the Iranian revolution, the majority of Pakistani Sunnis were just waiting to see how it panned out, despite frantic attempts to make them fanatically anti-Shia (sponsored by the Saudis). When they are not being bombarded with inflammatory propaganda, car bombs, death squads or military ordinance, people are quite capable of making judgements for themselves.

    I cannot think of a more effective wake up call to shake them out this, than an American invasion of Iran.

  8. David Broder is a member of the inside-the-beltway elite, Prof. Cole. You are not. Therein lies the difference. No economic study has ever identified “defense” as an effective economic stimulus. Broder’s commentary is simply stupid.

    The Washington politicians, including virtually all the democrats, have been approving war funding for 10 years now and ever-increasing “defense” budgets.

    When you consider that the entire “defense” budget encompasses not only DoD, but also, all of “intelligence”, Homeland “Security” and Veterans Affairs, large parts of DoE, State, plus the interest on the debt for past defense spending, we are probably wasting at least 10% of GDP for this so-called “defense”

    We also spend something like 17% of GDP on “healthcare”.

    OECD countries spend a little over 1% of GDP on “defense” and most spend less than half of the US on healthcare.

    Is there any wonder why we have inadequate, crumbling, broken and filthy infrastructure? Any wonder why poverty is increasing? Or that US students are underachievers compared to other countries? The elite media never raises the issue of “defense” spending — it is a sacred cow.

    “Defense” is slowly, but surely bankrupting the US. Just like it bankrupted the other superpower 20 years ago. Elite opinion is leading the US into the sewer of bankruptcy and poverty.

  9. Just read Mr David Broder’s article.
    I fear you do him an injustice. The article oozes irony and is therefore to be taken with a pinch of salt. It was obviously written for the “ The Rally to Restore Sanity and / or Fear”
    I only wonder that he did not point out the economic advantages of letting public infrastructure and education go to the dogs.

  10. “I can’t think of anything that would be worse for the US economy, or for Obama’s prospects for a second term, than going to a war footing with Iran. ”

    Thanks, Juan. This really needed to be said. And then there is the moral issue of using war as an economic impetus. Even if it is simply putting the country on a “war footing”, there is, as you point out, the distinct possibility of things spinning out of control. I am sick and tired of American politicians and commentators who think it is quite justified to wage war on another country, killing and maiming in the process hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians and destroying that country’s infrastructures simply so that the American energy gulping, CO2 spewing and throw-away economy can benefit from a jump start. From my perspective from across the pond, American warmongering is a serious threat to peace and stability nearly everywhere on the planet.

  11. “The Iranians cannot actually close the Straits of Hormuz, which are 26 miles wide”

    Iran is estimated to have produced at least 1000 Noor anti-ship missiles, most on mobile shore-based launchers, with ranges from 40 to 170 km.

      • I agree that a war with Iran would be disastrous, but I respectfully disagree with your underestimation of the Iranian ability to respond to and cope with a US military strike. Two recent wars using air power (NATO attack on Serbia and Israeli attack on Lebanon in 2006) show its limitations. These limitations would be even more pronounced in a conflict with Iran. During its attack on Serbia, NATO failed to destroy military equipment or infrastructure. For example, during three months of bombing, it only managed to destroy 8 tanks, a handful of planes and armored vehicles, and no anti air craft missiles. The only reason Serbia surrendered was because of mass targeting of civilian infrastructure (power plants, civilian factories, roads, etc). A similar result occurred in Lebanon, where the Israelis completely failed to significantly effect Hezbollah’s capacity for continued military operations during a month of heavy bombing. In fact, despite Israeli’s complete air superiority it failed to achieve ANY of the military objectives it sought to achieve. Iran has a number of types of effective anti ship missiles which it manufactures domestically. These missiles can be mounted and launched by small trucks that are identical to commonly used civilian vehicles. (In other words, completely mobile, and can be launched from any point in Iran in range of the target). In the event of war, the Iranians are not going to leave these missiles in exposed, static positions so they can be easily destroyed. They are going to move them constantly, and will undoubtly store a large number in well protected and concealed bunkers (Just like Hezbollah with its rockets in 2006). Further, it only takes a few minutes to launch such a missile, which is far to short a time to allow effective targeting by aircraft (Again, just like Hezbollah). Spy satellites will not be effective in detecting this (They move in polar orbits, and only pass over any given point for a relatively brief period of time). For example, a small truck with an exposed missile is imaged by a spy satellite or reconnaissance plane (This is unlikely as the missiles can be completely concealed until they are actually launched). It takes time for the imagery to be analyzed (In Serbia, it frequently took NATO 48 hours after discovering a targer to launch a mission against it). However, let’s assume it only takes 2-3 hours to analyze the imagery and relay the coordinates to US forces. Sometime during this period the small truck launches its missile against a target ship in the Persian Gulf. The US than launches an aircraft or cruise missile against the target location, most likely from an aircraft carrier. It takes some time to reach it (US ships will probably not be located in the Persian Gulf but 400-600 kilometers outside of it in the Indian Ocean because of the danger from ground based anti ship missiles, unmanned drones, mines, swarm attacks by small boats carrying anti ship missiles, etc). By the time this occurs, the small truck is long gone, either in a nearby bunker, or in some other concealed location, ready to reload and fire its next missile once the aircraft in the area depart. The result will be similar to the 2006 Lebanon conflict, with aircraft constantly trying and failing to destroy small, easily concealed targets. (Another example is the failure to destroy large, slow moving Iraqi SCUDs during the Gulf War). This is assuming that US forces have complete dominance over Iranian air space, which they most probably will not. Iran has a variety of sophisticated medium range Anti Air systems such as the Tor M1, upgraded and improved domestic Hawk variant, and short range Anti Air systems. These systems are also highly mobile and can launch with short notice. In addition, Iran will use its 1,000s of Surface to Surface missiles (also domestically manufactured with substantially better range and accuracy than SCUDs) to attack the exposed US air bases near the Persian Gulf. These missiles have sufficient range to be launched from virtually anywhere inside of Iran. And, if the US starts to extensively target civilian infrastucture or oil production facilities inside Iran these missiles can be used to retaliate by targeting oil production infrastructure in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, etc.

      • Actually no.

        The launchers are all portable and are well protected and widely distributed.

        Remember that each plane carries a limited amount of munitions and it could take as many as 1000+ missions to get all the Noor missiles (assuming there are only 1000)

        In the process of 1000 missions, the US military will lose a significant number of aircraft.

        Not only that but Iran has developed and deployed thousands of very cheap, robotic boats filled with explosives. These boats attack in swarms to overload war ship defenses. So, while a US war ship might be able to fight off most of a swarm of these boats and might be able to survive, civilian tankers would not be able to. All Iran has to do is sink one tanker and the rest will stop trying to travel the Persian Gulf – Most ship owners will not take the financial risk of running the blockade until the price of oil is high enough, but by then the US economy will be completely dead and buried.

        The reality is Iran can not only close the Persian Gulf to oil traffic, they can also destroy most of the critical oil infrastructure.

        I have been in combat and am well aware just how deficient the US military is. The US has wasted trillions of dollars on high-tech weapons whereas Iran has gone the Walmart path on weapons systems – lots of cheap, “good enough” weapons. As the Talaban has shown in Afghanistan, lots of cheap “good enough” weapons combined with hit and run tactics completely trump high-tech weapons.

        BTW the US revolutionaries defeated the “high-tech” British army by using realty inexpensive weapons very effectively via hit and run tactics.

        Professor Cole, you have too much blind faith in the US military.

  12. Number of U.S. troops killed in the Afghaniscam for October 2010, about 64? Give or take a few. Glib I confess. Number of Americans beaten senseless and no longer paying any attention whatsoever, about 164 million? You know, give or take a million or so.
    David Broder out of his freaking mind? Quite possibly.

  13. In my opinion Professor Cole, you are too forebearing towards David Broder. The sheer lunacy and callousness of this column are breathtaking. It should lead to his being fired. At 81 years old he looks like he has completely lost his marbles.

  14. Mr Broder is a good student of the American conscience. He knows that preparation for war against Iran will incur no popular uprising here, and that, should the war proceed, there will be little domestic grief over the killing of Iranian men, women, and children, destruction of families and communities, starvation and disease, and whatever other horrors are visited on that country by our “recession cure”.

    I’m sure that a war with Iran would follow the “classic” model of Desert Storm, where we bombed Iraq back into the stone age before our foot soldiers crossed the border. With drone technology much more advanced now, we could delay sending in the troops forever, their proxy being a blanket of lethal drones that destroys any object on the ground that gives off the slightest aura of “enemy combatants”.

    Of course, a war without American casualties does have a down side. It will be so easy to ignore that the public will have lots of free time to notice that the recession is still with us, and the deficit is growing faster because we certainly would not raise taxes to pay for the war. “A drone in every garage, and a Hellfire in every pot” may loose its attraction.

    But, “war is swell” does have a nice ring, its upbeat.

  15. Broder’s wrong about war helping the economy but nearly all American economists think WWII ended the depression. Being Keynesians, they ignore how war destroys produced goods and how war allocates production to warfare, thus shrinking the production of goods that consumers want. During the depression, Americans lived better than they would live during WWII. What ended the depression was the breaking out of peace. The Keynesian pump-priming of the 1930s prolonged the depression by crowding out private savings. Had there been no pump-priming, the depression would have ended much sooner, but the necessity of going through temporary pain is something politicians fight against: they don’t care that postponing the pain only makes the outcome worse. They get away with it because voters believe in a free lunch and because American economists fail to see the lag between pump-priming and the ensuing increased prices of goods, as is happening now with agricultural products. To this day American economists think more pump-priming, more quantitative easing, will do good. They refuse to admit that quantitative easing has the same economic effects as the counterfeiting of dollars: namely, it distorts economic signals, leading businesses to invest in less-productive activities such as the recent housing boom. Ever since Nixon cut the dollar loose in 1971 by making it entirely fiat, Keynesianism in practice has meant more frequent economic crises with increasingly worse consequences: for instance, the dotcom bubble led the way for the housing bubble. Next, the bond bubble will burst, wiping out the savings of hundreds of millions. But by misinforming the public, American economists act as the enablers of the politicians, all of whom like deficit spending. The Tea Party is dedicated to increased spending on defense, which is just another form of deficit spending or quantitative easing. Moreover, throwing quantitative easing away on warfare is worse than throwing it away on dotcom stocks or houses or bonds. Some economists have been warning the public that all this was going to happen, but Washington and Wall Street have muffled their voices because politicians and big bankers like feeding at the public trough.

    • “The Keynesian pump-priming of the 1930s prolonged the depression by crowding out private savings.”

      Excuse me, but that’s ridiculous. In January 1933 the Depression had gone on for 3 1/4 years with no signs of recovery. People had panicked and stopped spending, so there should have been plenty of private savings. However, in that month the banks were collapsing like crazy. In fact, Americans were spending increasing percentages of GNP on debt service because their wages were too small to get ahead of their debts. No one trusted the banks with their savings anyway, so there was no way savings could get to businesses. Classical economics couldn’t explain this because it held as gospel that the velocity of money is constant, which it obviously wasn’t. If the velocity reaches zero, then nothing else matters.

      Classical economics is crap. Wages can fall below starvation levels, and even then markets do not always clear.

  16. “But even Republicans want jobs in their districts, and Obama will not be helpless in that regard.”
    Republicans don’t believe that government expenditures help create jobs. Or at least they have been saying so in the current campaign. (Of course that doesn’t keep them from accepting stimulus money that has been allocated to their districts, and claiming credit for it.)
    BTW you are 100% right about the negative effects of even looking like we intend to go to war with Iran.

  17. On the one hand we have Prof Cole’s rationality, but on the other you have the information, advice, and general framing of options that are presented to him, which two years into his term has the potential to leave better thinking behind.

    Obama is a smart, critical guy, and would not be as easily snowed as an empty-suit like Dubya. But since his election, for example, Israel’s top agent in the US executive branch has burrowed into position as his lead NSC adviser on Iran. And so it goes.

    Geopolitically, George Friedman at Stratfor has a series of analyses which support, from a number of angles, the pivotal role Iran can play in regional peace as well as US politics, in which it seems Obama can either pull a Nixon-To-China move, or allow the US to somehow be “provoked” into war, for domestic reasons essentially. But the economic case to be made for war, to goose the economy through increased demand and consumption, requires a REAL war that really stimulates things, not one of these effete simmering affairs we see in Iran/Afghanistan.

    There are other cases to support this drift as well. So, the real question is what sort of guy is Obama. To someone with a mindset as entitled as Dubya’s, an invasion was like playing a big game of Risk, but I simply cannot see Obama being snowed into a serious attack on Iran with all the death and calamity it would involve (even if restricted to the air), even if he were boxed into it by his advisors. But that’s just my read of someone I’ve never met, and we never really know what people are capable of.

  18. Excellent article however I take issue with your statement – ” Americans go running to their congressmen demanding a repeal of the Bill of Rights every time there is a little pipe bomb somewhere,” The push to repeal the Bill of Rights after 9/11 came from the Top [Bush] down. While there was only one Senator brave enough to vote against the “Patriot” act there were and are millions of Americans who oppose[d] it. President Obama and the Democrats are in trouble with their “base” mostly because they did not stand up to this effort. That said, I totally agree that War with Iran would be a Economic and Political disaster for the US, Iran and the World.

  19. The voice of reason, to be sure.

    We have already wounded our country with unnecessary wars abroad, and our domestic economy is reeling from the consequences. To contemplate invasion or bombing of yet another country would be madness.

  20. As others commenting on Broder’s opinion piece have noted: there is no stimulus to be gained from preparing for war with Iran, as the US has already been on a war footing for some time and already has all the battleships and fighter planes ready to go. What is revealing, as others have also pointed out, is that Broder is effectively calling for a government funded jobs or industrial program, and can only see it in the context of war preparations rather than pumping money into education, infrastructure, or other more constructive uses.

  21. Broder is way past his expiration date as a journalist. He should just retire and leave the warmongering to the neocons. The problem with American opinionists is that they, too, are victims of the dumbing-down of the nation–they pontificate about issues they know little about because their audience is even dumber and knows even less. There is no fact checking, no truth criteria, and no accountability. Broder will neither apologize nor set the record straight. He has a divine right to spout his opinions, regardless how ludicrous, foolish and assinine they are.

  22. I think that there are a few reasons for Mr. Broder’s strange advice. The Republican party has maintained for 30-40 years that Roosevelt’s policies didn’t really work and that WWII ended the Depression. There is some small grain of truth that the arms build-up in 1940 and 1941, and the sales to England, put the final spike in the Depression. But that is, as you hint, pure Keynesian intervention. The bump we could get from increased military spending is now very small, because we are already fueling that sector of the economy to the point that it can’t be a driver of major job growth. It should be obvious that war can’t get us out of our current economic crises because we are already embroiled in two conflicts, so if war was the answer the economy should be booming.
    The second reason is that Mr. Broder, for as long as I can remember, has always been a stalking horse for the Republican party – always reasonable and sometimes right- but his slant is definitely orthodox Republican philosophy, so his advice to a Democratic President is pitched to create a certain impression that the President is somehow inadequate to the task, even when the President is correct.
    There seems to be no penalty to suggesting that we go to war with other nations that have never actually harmed us. But I do worry about what would happen if the Republicans were to capture the White House in 2012, when even the reasonable edge of the Republican Party can make this argument.

  23. Astonishing imbecillity from the likes of Broder. Obama will be lucky to find the time to start his Iran war, as he’ll be taken up with another more personal struggle. I predict that the coming Republican majority in the House will, like it did his partisan predecessor, impeach him. Or try to. In any case, his presidency will be effectively over.

  24. I am surprised that a respected political analyst would suggest a war as a mean for economic recovery. I am not a political analyst but I read and I strongly disagree with his suggestion. He should at least read the Plan B for Obama article in Foreign Policy magazine before advocating war with Iran to boost our economy and publishing that in the Washington Post. It is the opposite, cutting, really cutting military spending is the way to go as suggested by Christopher Preble and resisting any temptation to go to war with Iran because it will only back fire as suggested by Dimitri Trenin although I disagree with the later that Iran is clearly headed for nuclear weapon.

    Christopher Preble 
CUT (REALLY CUT) MILITARY SPENDING
    “Despite all the hype about Defense Secretary Robert Gates and his cuts of big-ticket military projects, the Pentagon’s $680 billion budget is actually slated to increase in coming years. This is unconscionable at a time when taxpayers are under enormous stress and when the U.S. government must reduce spending across the board. Barack Obama can save big bucks without undermining U.S. security — but only if he refocuses the military on a few, core missions.
    Unfortunately, the president has shown no real interest in cutting military spending or in revisiting the purpose of U.S. military power. Why not? For all his talk of change, Obama has continued on the path set by his predecessors. Like George W. Bush and Bill Clinton before him, he sees the U.S. military as the world’s sole policeman, and its armed social worker. It is this all-encompassing mission that requires a large military — and a very expensive one. Americans today spend more on their military, adjusting for inflation, than at any time during the Cold War, even though the threats that they face are quite modest.
    If Obama is serious about reducing the deficit and keeping U.S. troops out of “dumb wars,” as he famously dubbed them, he should put his money where his mouth is. Cutting defense spending is the only reliable way to stifle Washington’s impulse to send U.S. troops on ill-considered missions around the globe.
    The hawks will scream, but America will be just fine. Obama can capitalize on the country’s unique advantages — wide oceans to the east and west, friendly neighbors to the north and south, a dearth of powerful enemies globally, and the wealth to adapt to dangers as they arise — by adopting a grand strategy of restraint. The United States could shed the burden of defending other countries that are able to defend themselves, abandon futile efforts to fix failed states, and focus on those security challenges that pose the greatest threat to America. A strategic shift of this magnitude will not only reduce conflict and make the United States safer, but it will enable Obama to reshape the military to suit this more modest set of objectives, at a price that’s far easier for taxpayers to swallow.”

    Dmitri Trenin: 
”DIVIDE THE IRANIAN LEADERSHIP”
    “Despite all that Barack Obama has to preoccupy himself with in Afghanistan and Iraq these days, it is Iran that is likely to be the U.S. president’s most serious foreign policy-challenge in the coming months. By now it is clear that Iran is headed toward nuclear weapons — and that’s plural weapons, not just one. Iran’s goal is a nuclear weapons arsenal. The only question that remains is whether this will be maintained for deterrence and regional power politics or actually used. That answer will depend on the balance of power within the Iranian leadership.
    Obama essentially has two options: He can provoke the Iranian leadership, or he can seek to influence it, tipping the balance in favor of the moderates. The options mentioned in policy circles so far include striking Iran, supporting an Israeli attack, or imposing ever more stringent sanctions. None will work, however, and each will backfire — empowering the regime’s most radical elements by offering them a pretext to attack Israel or the West. The president must resist the temptation to use highly visible, but blunt instruments of power.
    Instead, the Obama administration must work to isolate the religious fanatics and their allies among the Revolutionary Guards, empowering the moderates. Elements of such a strategy include: increasing economic and cultural openness toward Iran; coordinating closely with foreign partners, from Europe and Turkey to Russia and China; and aligning NATO’s missile-defense plans with its erstwhile rival, Moscow. There is no guarantee, of course, that this strategy will succeed. What it does ensure is — at the very least — that the United States will not make matters worse by throwing a public-relations softball to Iran’s radical fanatics. Iran’s bomb may be inevitable; its use is still preventable”.

    The article also has some other excellent suggestions on how to boust our economy non of which is war. Here is a summary of the 14 points, the link for the full article is at the end.

    “Avoid the Double Dip Nouriel Roubini and Michael Moran
    Take It to the People Robert Shrum
    Get Off Oil R. James Woolsey
    Build Up the West Bank Elliott Abrams
    Make a South Asia Command Bruce Riedel
    Stop Fawning Over America’s Muslim Allies Ellen Laipson
    Rewrite the Rules of War Will Marshall
    Give the Public a Green Check James Hansen
    Cut (Really Cut) Military Spending Christopher Preble
    Dump the Nukes Joseph Cirincione 
    Change the Rules of the Game in Pakistan Ashley J. Tellis
    Divide the Iranian Leadership Dmitri Trenin
    Get Tough on Human Rights Kenneth Roth
    Turn South Nancy Soderberg”

    link to foreignpolicy.com

  25. At one time David Broder may have been a respected analyst, but that was some time back. His views have been Neanderthal for quite a while and this latest comment is simply more evidence of that.

  26. Broder has consistently been wrong about practically everything across the map whether we are talking about domestic policies or foreign affairs. Broder is basically right wing. How were the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq for the economy by the way? If those two wars didn’t help the economy why would this man think a war with Iran would be that great. What we really need is another World War if this bozo thinks that would get the economy purring along except I do believe we have exported our manufacturing capability to China; so how would we manufacture our war necessities has to be taken into consideration. I don’t care whether this man lived during the Vietnam War because he obviously never learned any of its lessons has he.

  27. I think the irony of all the “war-with-Iran” enthusiast is that they have yet to understand what has happened in Iran since Obama took office. The ONLY time in the last 30 years that the Iranian leadership cracked was when Obama took office with promise of an olive branch to Iranian government. When you think about it, the event of last year in Iran was not an accident.

    The fact of the matter is that there are factions in Iranian leadership. So long as US is in conflict mode with Iran, the factions realize they need to be united. Only when there threat of violence and survival is removed, is when the inner-fighting and the weaknesses of the leadership is exposed.

    If the goal is to effect the policies of Iran, then there is no better way for US but to rely on strength of its message and business leadership to influence the Iranian politics in open and honest discussion and trade.

    On the other hand if the goal is that war with Iran as means to improve the economy of US, then be prepared for it to all go wrong and see the collapse of the economy. Because if we get to the point where the economy depends on a war, then a mis-calculation would not only mean losing the war but also to lose your economy.

    I think great mistake the some of the pundit are making in thinking war is good for economy is that they don’t realize how the world has changed in last 60 years. WWII and the Cold War was good for US economy because it meant growth of US economy into areas that was not its territories prior to war. In WWII, US expanded its economic reach into Europe and areas that was formerly in the hand of the British and European colonizers. After cold war, US expanded into Eastern Europe that spur the growth of the 90s. Iran, as big as it is, and as troublesome as it may be in a conflict, is nothing for the size of US economy. So even an unlikely successful war with Iran wont do much to improve US economy. If you analyze the history you will see that it is not the war expenditure alone that make the economy. It is the expansion that happens after the victory in war. It it was the expenditure alone, you would have also been able to dug a hole and fill and get your economy back on track.

  28. I was much struck by your comment: “I don’t understand the American fascination with war. We’ve been at war one way or another all my life. Is that normal?”

    My response: normal for you all, not at all normal for us north of the 49th parallel.

    Living in Canada, next door as it were, this warwaging has always been a source of wonderment and not a little fear. I do suppose we could go back much farther in history than out short lifetimes, perhaps to the War of 1812-14 in which Toronto was put to the torch by US invaders, through interventions all over Latin America and the Spanish Pacific. And of course one should not forget the US civil war. Through this period, Canadians have been remarkably tranquil. A short adventure to the Boer War, then the cataclysmic events of WW I and WW II, the whole sorry drama from 1939 onward I might add, then the restrained Korean conflict, and latterly a bit of action in Afghanistan, shortly to be brought to a conclusion by abandonment.

    It’s not as if no preparations were made, they were. The mobilization for WW II in Canada far exceeded the US experience in scope. It’s just that the political climate here is intolerant of ill-considered imperial adventures. Vietnam, Iraq II, and the entire range of Latin interventions come easily to mind. I tend to view this difference in political culture as fundamentally rooted in the absence of what has come to be known as American exceptionalism. With overwhelming public support, Canada typically signs up for international conventions such as the war crimes tribunal, the land mines treaty and so on and largely follows them, having no territorial ambitions save in the Arctic Ocean shelf, and no quasi-religious impetus to the enforced imposition of governance schemes on other peoples. Relations with countries like Cuba have always been good, even at the worst of times.

    I have lived most of my life in long peacetime stretches in contrast to my counterpart cohorts down south. There has been no mandatory military service since 1945 and even that brief instance did not result in fatalities for any enlisted person to my limited knowledge. I would not have it any other way. The alternatives are all horrifying.

  29. Broder’s thesis sounds like the Bush (the lesser) Doctrine, according to Nestor Kirchner, the former President of Argentina who died last week. Part of an interview that Oliver Stone conducted with Pres. Kirchner is posted on Democracy Now at

    link to democracynow.org

    In brief,


    Kirchner: I said that a solution to the problems right now, I told Bush, is a Marshall Plan. And he got angry. He said the Marshall Plan is a crazy idea of the Democrats. He said the best way to revitalize the economy is war and that the United States has grown stronger with war.”

    There’s a little more elaboration on this thesis at the link. I’m guessing Broder is still hopped up on the neo-lib Kool-aid, and so doesn’t even notice that TWO wars, with occupations, is not doing the trick, so why should it help to add another?!

  30. Mr. Cole,

    Your understanding of Iran’s true capacity and analysis of Broder’s misstep is superb. I would like to calibrate some of the facts above so as to better enlighten your readers as to WHO Broder is asking Obama get into a war with.

    Iran, just a little bigger than Mr. Cole stated, is actually FOUR to FIVE times the size of Iraq, has a population of 75 million plus, the 17th largest GDP in the world (1 above Turkey according to the CIA Factbook 2009), a battle-hardened military, domestic abilities to produce drones, radar systems, optical systems, warships, submarines, torpedos, and various missiles. Of note, is an Iranian version of the Sunburn missile, an unstoppable anti-AIRCRAFT CARRIER missile which Iran sold BACK to the Chinese vastly improved. The United States has —-no—- defense to this. See Jane’s.

    Now, let’s clarify some of the geography involved here. If you were to stand on a boat in the middle of the Straits of Hormuz, the gap is so small that you would literally be able to see Oman on one side and Iran on the other. That is the same point the entire WORLD’s Middle East choke supply goes through, is in Iranian territory, and controlled by Iran. Over the last 10 years, Iran has studied very thoroughly how to block that Strait in the instance of a conflict. The US can’t even clean up a Gulf Spill at home, and you think we can unclog the Strait while being attacked?

    The truth is, Broder et al. know there will never be an attack, Juan. The game plan all along has been to speculate and create hysteria against an Iran to rob it of its legal right to enrichment, one that poises to increase its soft power several times over. Israel et. al. need to keep a surging Iran weak, and these sanctions based on BS are the best way to do it. It’s time we all started addressing people like Broder’s true intentions: to start a war with Iran to benefit Israel.

    • An army moves on gasoline . In wartime , the needs are increased 100-fold
      Does Iran has enough gasoline to hold 1 year ? Please contribute to our knowledge . I heard Iran produces only one quarter of its peacetime needs .

  31. Very nice article,
    actually this is the first one that correctly realized Iran’s real power. (i’m an Iranian). i’m not here to picture my country a superpower but i am amazed that the writer is very well informed about issues and current situation in Middle east. because almost all of the people in america who write about Iran, war and etc are needed to have a travel to region.
    as an Iranian i have to express my best thanks to people who try to avoid a new war with Iran because i know such a war can destroy our every thing (not as much as Iraq but even more, because unlike Iraqi people and governors Iranians will try their best to defend their country and this will make more destroy, or even will led in using nuclear bomb specially if Israel comes in battle field, that will come). also as the writer said US economy will hurt severely too. imagine world when 3 big oil producers (Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran) will stop selling oil (this will happen because nobody can carry even a barrel of oil safely from Persian gulf, if a war happen there), some say oil price will rise to about 500$.
    ALSO another important thing that i think is valuable to mention is that the main result that made people like Mr. Broder to speak about war against Iran very easily is that they think Iran’s government is not supported by Iranian’s, so if US invade Iran they wont resist or even will help US soldiers (like what happened in Iraq to get rid of Saddam). this thought has formed after unrests in Tehran after election. but the reality is completely different. look at this link (a poll that carried out by an american institutes) to see, now, some 81% of Iranians consider him to be the country’s legitimate president. in the case of war, i am sure , this percent will rise to more than 95.
    link to worldpublicopinion.org
    Thanks

  32. The extent of Mr. Broder’s analysis regarding war’s economic stimulative affects is this:

    “War and peace influence the economy. Look back at FDR and the Great Depression. What finally resolved that economic crisis? World War II.”

    We are having way too many, “Let’s compare our current situation to WWII” moments in this nation. Maybe its because the WWII movies are so awesome. Iraq, Iran and North Korea made up a new Axis power according to the George W. Bush Administration. Terrorists movements like AQ, are not simply religious fundamentalists, but Islamo-“fascists” which makes them all the more Hitlerian, and more scary!

    Mr. Broder seems to be having a “Today must be like WWII” moment. Little is similar to today’s globally linked economy to that of post-WWII. Essentially, the industrial infrastructure of all the industrialized nations of the world, except that of the United States, was destroyed in the war. Germany’s major cities were destroyed by Allied bombing or captured by the Soviets. Japan’s major cities were burned by Allied incendiary bombing. Great Britain, as Dr. Cole pointed out, was economically crippled as well.

    The U.S. was able to “bounce back” from the Great Depression because the rest of the world had no place else to shop, and they had to start rebuidling their shattered nations. Our factories were not bombed. The U.S. suffered approximately 418,000 casualties. link to en.wikipedia.org. Not a paltry sum, but compared to the total population of the other combatants, we came out of the war relatively unscathed, as did our industrial capacity. The U.S. was able to get out of the Great Depression because the rest of the world had to buy our bulldozers, the had to buy our automobiles, they had to import all of our products because we were the only nation capable of production at the time. Further, our political system remained stable, and we did not undergo any serious political upheaval, like Britain or France, nor did we undergo complete regime change like Germany or Japan. How else could the U.S. afford the Marshall Plan to revitalize Western Europe.

    Remember when policy wonks were advocating a Marshall Plan for post-Saddam Iraq? link to articles.latimes.com. This idea faded because, unlike 1947 to 1951, policy makers came to the stunning conclusion that today we are not the only functioning economic power, which would allow us to fund such an initiative.

    Basically, Mr. Broder did no research and little to no critical thinking for his piece. His is more of a political analysis than an economic one. People did not re-elect G.W. Bush in 2004 because the War in Afghanistan and W.’s invasion of Iraq had really stimulated the economy. They re-elected G.W. Bush because he was at war. People rally around the flag in such times.

    Also, Mr. Broder does not use our modern history to substantiate his “war is good for the economy” theory. Mr. Broder could not point all the jobs the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan created because they did not create many. See link to blogs.wsj.com. The jobs created over the Bush Admin were likely for Security Contractors and Intelligence contractors, which was highlighted from earlier, stronger reporting the Washington Post. link to projects.washingtonpost.com

    In fact, I’m willing to bet dollars to doughnuts that I, an unemployed attorney with a History major, did far more research in the past 30 minutes writing this poorly planned, screed than Mr. Broder did for his.

  33. If going to war against Iran can solve our economic crisis, imagine what a war against China (at least fifteen times more people) would do! We’d all be rich!

  34. Good advice or not the war is coming and Obama and his sanction regime have done more for war with Iran then Cheney shaking finger on an aircraft carrier in Persian Gulf (get ready America, economy takes off from a short runway in Middle East)

  35. MR BRODER i am surprised that he did not do his home work,before publishing this article.you do not have to be an economic major to know this,yes haliberton and some small contract co will benefit largley,like they did in iraq and now in afghanestan,but the major bulk of the nations economy will go down the tubes.he should just retire in some place in florida and stop advising obama.pleeeeeese.

  36. This is basically Nazi thinking – not the Nazi thinking that led to the Holocaust, but the Nazi thinking that led to WWII. And Broder is evidently far from alone – George Friedman at Stratfor came with just the same line a few days ago, and there are plenty of others. Like many Europeans, I’ve always regarded Americans as a bit crazy but fundamentally a benign force in history. Even Ronald Reagan. But I fear that has changed – it seems that a significant part of MAINSTREAM America is fundamentally evil. Evil not in a Christian, or even religious sense, but rather in the way that all human ethical systems regard as evil. It’s very sad and rather terrifying. Are we going to have fight this evil America, if and when it gains absolute power, with all the means we have available?

    • The answer from this American is “yes”. As the white population gets squeezed closer and closer to minority status, a larger and larger proportion of it goes crazy and looks for a way to turn back the clock. Imagine the kind of people who seized control of South Africa in 1948. It will be a 40-year fight between them and the demographic victors, who have a more “European” attitude about the military and social spending despite not being ethnically European at all.

      But if the bad guys make their move via theft, coup or secession, what will you Europeans do to stop them? You would do us a great favor by kicking us out of NATO and creating a single military restored to your own control. But ultimately, you’re going to have to create resistance to America’s true masters, the multinational corporations, and run the bastards off of your supermarket shelves, your commercial TV, and all the other places where they infiltrate and conquer. That will be supremely difficult, as anyone who has ever tried to organize a boycott of even one of them has discovered.

      Unless the above steps are completed, you will find that if a right-wing putsch happens in Washington your own elected leaders will not lift a finger to oppose or sanction it, and then we’re stuck with a multigenerational race war.

  37. Going to war with Iran to boost the economy is retarded. We have so many problems here at the home front that we could work on yet They want to start problem’s in pother countries as well. I think we should pull out all our troops from overseas and place them on the border of mexico if our problem with the cartell and illeagals is that bad.. Why worry about other countries when we need to be worried about our own. You politicians are stupid in your own right to think that starting a war is the best possible sollution for our economy.

  38. Iran can shut down the Straits, at least for a while.
    Iran possesses hypersonic cruise missiles can travel well over a hundred miles, have pinpoint accuracy and are impossible to stop.

    The shear threat of them being used would be enough to paralyze oil transport vessels.

    I suggest the writer of this article do some research into Irans cruise missile capabilities.

  39. As far as signs of insanity, attacking Iran is definitely one of them. Even the U.S. making plans for an attack on Iran is crazy, fraught with unintended consequences. Just look at what happened after the U.S. (specifically, the Pentagon under Donald Rumsfeld) conducted an Iranian war game scenario/exercise in 2001.

    In 2001, Rumsfeld’s Pentagon ran a war game involving the Persian Gulf, oil tanker traffic, the U.S. naval fleet and Iran trying to disrupt/shut down the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz. The U.S. general assigned to represent the Iranian side did something unexpected and won the war game. He outfitted high-speed motorboats with explosives (like the U.S.S. Cole attack) and threw them against the other side in the Persian Gulf (the U.S. side led by other U.S. generals), and ended up crippling or destroying a whole lot of U.S. naval vessels and oil tankers, effectively shutting down oil traffic through the Persian Gulf. Apparently Donald Rumsfeld didn’t like the outcome, so another Persian Gulf war game exercise was ordered, but this time the U.S. general representing the Iranians was ordered not to use retrofitted explosive-laden motorboats. Hooray, the U.S. side won.

    Iran must have taken notice. They’ve had motorboats (presumably explosives-laden) shadowing vessels in the Persian Gulf for years. Plus, they developed their own Exocet-style surface-hugging cruise missiles. And after 2001, the Iranians worked hard at building alliances with Russia and Communist China, both economic and for military purposes. Also after 2001, Iran’s interest in nuclear power generation increased (purportedly so that more of their own home-consumption of oil could be freed up for export), as well as their interest in developing a nuclear weapon capability.

    Now, maybe Rumsfeld’s little Persian Gulf war game scenario didn’t trigger all this Iranian activity, but it certainly didn’t help. Just as the Bush/Cheney administration’s invasion of Iraq next door to Iran in March 2003 certainly didn’t help either (it actually led to a major threat to Iran being removed, Saddam Hussein and the Sunni Baathists, while opening the door for increased Iranian influence in Iraq). And we’d already be at war in Iran (with the Persian Gulf being a bloodbath) if former President Bush in his second term hadn’t defied SecDef Donald Rumsfeld and all the neo-con Republicans advocating a preemptive attack on Iran, basically with Bush’s probable intent being handing off this world-shaking possibly-U.S. destroying decision to his successor, driven by the view that Israel must be defended from the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran no matter what the consequences, no matter what the cost to the United States and the rest of the world, even another World War. It’s all insane.

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