Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Is War With Iran Inevitable?

No, says Brookings expert Ivo Daalder:
Politically, too, the context for war is very different today than it was in 2002-03. Then, the president was still riding high in the polls, and the American people looked to him as a trusted, competent, and strong leader. Now, Bush's approval ratings have collapsed and Americans have lost faith in his honesty, competence, and leadership. In one recent poll, fully 54 percent of Americans said they did not trust Bush to make the right decision on Iran. And given the trends in public opinion, these numbers are bound to get worse over time. Equally important, there wasn't much political debate about the wisdom of war three years ago. Most Senate and many House Democrats joined Republicans in giving Bush the blankest of blank checks — and a significant majority of Americans supported going to war. Today, the possibility of attacking Iran is hotly — and rightly — debated, and it would be inconceivable for Bush to gain congressional backing for such a move absent a far more dire and imminent threat from Iran.

And then there is the international context. While back then doubts about the direction of American foreign policy had already begun to set in, and opposition to going to war against Iraq was mounting, Bush could still count on getting the backing of many important players. In 2002, that included getting a unanimous vote on a UN Security Council resolution declaring Baghdad in breach of past UN resolutions and warning of serious consequences in case Iraq failed to come into full compliance. In 2003, it meant getting significant military backing from Britain, Australia, and some other key allies — and the political backing of still more countries. Today, even Tony Blair has made clear that Bush would be on his own if he attacked Iran.

None of this guarantees that Bush will not attack Iran — good arguments, huge potential costs, and the absence of political and international support have never been decisive in his calculations. But with the human, economic, political, and diplomatic consequences of the Iraq war so very evident to all, there is nothing inevitable about war with Iran. Indeed, there's a reasonable chance — even a good one — that Bush will make the right decision this time around.