This weekend I attended what one might call a "liberals only party", or, if I'm being perfectly accurate a "liberals (and a handful of token libertarians) only party". Great fun all around. At some point, though, as often happens at these sorts of events, I started a conversation about the high likelihood that at some point in the next 16 months the United States will initiate or sponsor some sort of attack against Iran. Not necessarily a full-scale invasion, or even a large-scale aerial bombardment campaign. Perhaps a covert attack against suspected arms dealers. Something.
What I found, to my surprise, is that literally nobody I know thinks this will ever happen. Instead, I heard a lot of oddly optimistic thoughts about... the administration's thinking: They don't have the political support. They may be crazy, but they're not that crazy. Etc.
Obviously, I don't know what's going to happen, and clearly there's some significant chance that we'll escape the Bush years without escalating things with Iran, but it seems like a lot of people still aren't heeding at least three things when they're trying to understand this administration:
1). There's no way to understand this administration. More specifically, it's absolutely impossible to know at what point they will become responsive to real-world political pressures. Whether it's because they think they can get away with almost anything, or because they're politically tone deaf, or both, the only thing we know for sure is that they're willing to try crazier and crazier things as time goes on.
2). At this point, there are very, very few ways tensions between Iran and the United States can escalate without at least some small measure of violence being involved. That's where the rhetoric is. That's where the military is. If we're going to exacerbate things with Iran, there's very little reason to think that we're going to shift away from either of those facts and instead follow the diktats of international law.
3). And most importantly, people are spending a lot of time trying to figure out how to make a full-fledged war happen.
Heritage decided to model the economic effects of bombing Iran and concluded that those effects would be bad (oil prices up, GDP down, employment down, recession in the offing, etc.). However, since Heritage is institutionally committed to insane hawkery, they reran their model with a few changes and discovered that the results weren't so bad after all. In fact, bombing Iran might even be good for the economy!
Now, my first thought when I read this was: holy hell. Out of all the possible things they could spend their time doing, they decided to expend a substantial effort on torturing the data to come up with some plausible way of claiming that bombing Iran would be just peachy as far as the U.S. economy is concerned. Wow. That's dedication to the cause.
But it gets even better. Guess what policy actions we need to take in order to turn bombing Iran from a net negative to a net positive? You guessed it: policy actions that the Heritage Foundation prefers in the first place. Fund the military! Ease regulatory burdens! End tariffs on ethanol! Don't raise gasoline taxes! Approve drilling in ANWR!
Admittedly this is a little weird. What we've come to understand about hawks (or at least neocon hawks) is that they want wars in order to advance political goals, not that they want to advance political goals in order to have more wars. But whatever. That's the depth of their depravity. They're trying as hard as they can to configure "things" in the United States such that the chances of escalation go up. The obvious way to respond if you're against the war is to try equally hard to configure "things" in the United States such that the chances of escalation down (keep impeachment talk in the air, introduce many, many pieces of legislation forbidding the use of military equipment of dollars in any action against Iran without Congress' approval for the next 16 months, etc). Simply assuming, though, that we won't go that route is, I think, a huge mistake, especially when so much is already happening right before our eyes. The only good that will come of it is that--per the bets I made on Friday--a lot of people will owe me free beer. As much as I like free beer, that's an awfully tiny payoff.
Update: Read more here.