You might think the 2008 race is going to be about Iraq. I think it’s increasingly likely that the next presidential election will be about Iran. What if Mario Loyola is right, and Iran is likely to expel U.N. inspectors and ramp up its nuclear fuel processing in a matter of months. That will provoke not only a national security crisis, but an American, and global, political crisis. At that point, the key question for every presidential candidate will be what to do about Iran. It will be the British sailors problem cubed.
By election time, we’ll see a raft of conflicting estimates on just when Iran is likely to get a bomb. None of them will be completely reliable, but there will also be good reason to fear that the worst scenarios are true. Meanwhile, the anti-war left will invoke the Iraq intelligence debacle and deride all the guesswork as bogus fear-mongering. The Democrats will be deeply split, and harmed at that point by their now indelibly dovish reputation. But the Republicans will also be cautious about calling for war. Overall, if this turns into an Iran election, it will help the Republicans.
Unfortunately, I wonder if, by the time a new president comes in, it won’t already be too late to stop Iran. Iran no doubt remembers how it sent the hostages home at the start of Ronald Reagan’s new presidency. It greatly feared Reagan’s combination of toughness and fresh political capital. That’s part of why Iran is racing so hard right now to get the bomb.