John C. Drew, Ph.D.

To Pull or Not to Pull: MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell Runs Clip of Sen. McCain Saying Its Time We Pulled the Trigger on Iran

Posted on April 15 2010 6:00 am
John C. Drew, Ph.D. is an award-winning political scientist who has taught American government and public policy at a few of our nation's formerly prestigious institutions.
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I just caught the YouTube video of Sen. John McCain saying that it was time to pull the trigger on Iran.  From the context, of course, McCain is merely saying that we need to impose strict sanctions on Iran – not that it is time to bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, Iran. 

Nevertheless, from the point of view of the U.S. political cycle and the risks we face in Iran, I’m thinking that now is probably a good time for Israel to “pull the trigger.”   Among Republicans, I’m pretty sure they will be cheered by the Israeli strike and pleased to see that force is used to put down the Iranians who obviously wish us ill.  In fact, a large majority of us – conservatives and independents – would applaud this action.  For example, a recent Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll of 900 registered voters on April 6-7, 2010 shows 61% support in response to the question worded: “Do you support or oppose the United States taking military action to keep Iran from getting nuclear weapons?”

Among prominent Democrats, however, I think we can safely predict that “pulling the trigger” will not be a popular option.  As far as I can tell, liberal Democrats are always against war and it does not matter who the bad guys are or what kind of weapons they have on the launch pad. Ironically, even foreign wars have a way of dividing us up along partisan lines.  Given this context, the natural question would be when is the right time to “pull the trigger?” For example, from the standpoint of U.S. politics, is the time to pull the trigger now, just prior to November, after November, or in the Spring (or later) of 2011?

If Israel pulled the trigger now, I think it is safe to say that this action would energize Republicans and independents, while – at the same time – it would stoke a heated debate about whether or not Israel did the right thing.  Such a debate, in my view, would assist Republicans in contrasting themselves with the Democrats who would be busy attacking Israel for making a pre-emptive strike.  Consequently, the debate would provide Republicans with a nationalized public issue that broke in their favor.

Ironically, if Israel waited to “pull the trigger” just prior to November, then it would create a temporary rally-around-the-flag effect for President Obama that might impact the mid-term elections.  Obama’s popularity would rise temporarily as he took normal actions to insure that the conflict between Iran and Israel did not escalate into World War III.  Right now, we have a lot of military strength in Afghanistan, right near Iran, so it would be difficult for Russia or China to do much to defend Iran – if that was their objective.  If Israel attacks just prior to the November elections, then it would strengthen the military image of Obama, and – perhaps – give him an excuse — if he wishes to temporarily gain support by demonstrating a modest level of allied defense for Israel’s actions.  I do not see how Obama could do anything to harm Israel under this timing scenario without making things worse for his Democrat party.

If Israel pulls the trigger right after November, then Obama will have almost total freedom – electorally speaking – to do whatever he wants included issuing a strong attack on Israel and potentially supporting sanctions against Israel as part of a larger effort to distract people from the poor U.S. economy.  This would be the best option for Obama because he would build his ties to his base, long before he needed to pretend to be a centrist again in time for the 2012 Presidential election.  From the point of view of Israel, this looks like the worst time to pull the trigger to me.

If Israel attacks in the Spring of 2011, the issue will not have too much of a partisan electoral impact within the U.S.  Israel would be facing a less conservative Congress, and would still be in the doghouse with President Obama.  This analysis would be particularly poignant if, as Defense Secretary Gates suggests, Iran could expedite matters and have a nuke by the Spring of 2011.  So, my conclusion is that the sooner Israel pulls the trigger, the better it will be for her in ending an existential threat from Iran and for assisting her true and loyal friends in the United States. 

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