Should America invade Iran?
DAVID BRODER is known as the "dean of the Washington press corps". Long-serving journalists will sometimes gasp, audibly, if you explain that Mr Broder is wrong about this or that basic fact of politics. Think about that and then read his latest column, and you should have a good idea why a healthy public debate over macroeconomic policy is difficult to conduct in America. Mr Broder begins by musing over the state in which Barack Obama has found himself, and then the analysis begins:The steps that have been ordered so far in Washington have done nothing more than put the brakes on the runaway decline. They have not spurred new growth.This is untrue. The American economy has now been growing for five consecutive quarters.But if Obama cannot spur that growth by 2012, he is unlikely to be reelected. The lingering effects of the recession that accompanied him to the White House will probably doom him.Can Obama harness the forces that might spur new growth? This is the key question for the next two years.What are those forces? Essentially, there are two. One is the power of the business cycle, the tidal force that throughout history has dictated when the economy expands and when it contracts.Economists struggle to analyze this, but they almost inevitably conclude that it cannot be rushed and almost resists political command. As the saying goes, the market will go where it is going to go. I'm not sure that's a real saying. I'm also not sure what Mr Broder is saying. The business cycle almost resists political command. But that means it doesn't resist political command? Economists almost inevitably conclude it can't be rushed. What?In this regard, Obama has no advantage over any other pol. Even in analyzing the tidal force correctly, he cannot control it.What else might affect the economy? The answer is obvious, but its implications are frightening. War and peace influence the economy. Oh god.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. Oh, this is bad. Set aside that Mr Broder appears to be utterly ignorant of the niceties of academic debate concerning the role of World War II in ending the Depression. Let's operate within the mental model he's using. In this model, war ends recessions. Why does he think war ends recessions? Presumably he credits increased government spending for stimulating demand. But that would seemingly work for other kinds of government spending, as well. Why not encourage those, non-killing oriented kinds of spending? The answer would seem to be that Republicans wouldn't favour it.Now that seems like a good topic for a column: why do Republicans only favour killing-oriented government spending? But Mr Broder is close to satisfying his word count, now, so that will have to wait for another time. There is one other interesting fact here, which is that the magnitude of various war mobilisation efforts seems to escape Mr Broder's notice entirely. Mobilisation for multi-theatre, all-out war, including the deployment of millions of Americans, is equivalent to preparations for an attack on Iran. Either Mr Broder thinks that Iran will take a war effort on a par with that for World War II, in which case we might expect him to be a little more sceptical about just whether or not an Iran attack is a good idea (lots of Americans died in World War II!). Or he's not actually relying on the extent of spending to dig America out of its weak recovery, but instead is imagining war preparations as something like a light switch—on means the economy grows, off not. But if that's all it is, then why not declare war on some uninhabited island somewhere? Or the moon? Or, you know, ignorance? Then maybe fewer people would be killed! Oh, but right—the Republicans.He closes: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.Set aside the high school newspaper quality writing. One of the most respected figures in American opinion journalism is essentially arguing that Iran is the biggest threat to the world and that if Barack Obama therefore attacks it, in the process saving the American economy, he'll be set alongside Lincoln and Roosevelt in the pantheon of best presidents. He does this without citing any figures, any experts, any published research or analyses. He does this without acknowledging potential trade-offs of the action, including its moral reprehensibility and the possibility that it might not work. He can't even remember to include a to-be-sure paragraph noting that Mr Obama's predecessor started wars and yet failed to 1) make the world safer, 2) boost the American economy, 3) become the best president in history, so maybe doing all of that is harder than it looks.Just as stunning is the audacious provinciality of the argument. Should Europe also start a war in order to fix its economy? And maybe Japan, too? (That's one thing they haven't tried in twenty years of stagnation, and look how well they were doing back in the 1930s!) Meanwhile, what will the rest of the world do while America prepares its Iranian D-day? Are there any international laws that apply to this kind of thing (war, I mean)? Does Iran have key reserves of any important resources, the price of which has a significant effect on global economic activity?The dean of the press corps, people! This idea would get laughed out of dorm rooms! One (almost!) has to respect the high level at which the midterm campaigns have been conducted, given that this is the direction at least one major daily would have preferred the conversation to move.