Much of the reporting these days on Obama’s political prospects centers on the economy and the quality of the Republican field.
These things are, actually, fairly predictable. We know that the economy may be improving but still won’t be in good shape by November, and we’re very familiar with Obama’s challengers.
But all of this could be pushed aside by a single variable that rarely enters into the election calculus: Iran. Iran’s nuclear quest and what Obama does about it will likely impact the election in ways that could negate other issues. Iran could scramble the deck completely.
Let’s look at a few possibilities:
1. Israel attacks Iran’s Nuclear Program: Political Disaster for Obama
This is the worst possible outcome for Obama politically. If this happens, he hasn’t involved the United States, but the United States now must get involved, and isn’t in control of events. Once the retaliation begins, the United States will certainly be targeted for revenge. Obama will also have to come to Israel’s aid, even its rescue. If the Israeli strike is unsuccessful, the U.S. may be dragged in further.
Questions will be raised about why the United States didn’t just do the job itself, since we can take care of Iran much more effectively. Obama will fail to get the “rally around the president” effect of a leader in wartime, but he will get war anyway.
2. The United States attacks Iran’s Nukes: A Likely Positive for Obama
If Obama prepares the country and explains his rationale for the attack, it will have a positive effect on his fortunes, despite the retaliation and the rise in gas prices.
Americans can understand the need to prevent a nuclear Iran. Obama will look strong and decisive. He will be able to point to the Iran attack as the reason for high gas prices, reducing the blame he is getting.
And he will get a general rallying around the president during a time of war that could last for weeks or months. If he hits Iran in August or later, the support could carry well through Election Day, though he might also be open to charges the attack was politically motivated.
3. Nothing Happens: A negative for Obama
If Obama doesn’t take out Iran’s nukes and he prevents Israel from pulling the trigger, the sense Americans already have that the the country and the world are spinning out of control under Obama will increase.
Iran will clearly be on the march toward a nuclear weapon, and debate will rage about whether it’s too late to stop it. Many will question whether Obama is presiding over the rise of a threat that could destroy Israel. As Afghanistan continues to worsen as well, Obama will look like a weak leader, facing a Republican opponent who is sure to promise decisive action.
Sanctions should be given more time. But it does not appear feasible, given the pace and mystery of Iran’s program, to give sanctions the rest of the year to work. Obama wants this problem to go away until after Election Day, but it won’t. If he does not decide Iran’s fate, Iran will decide his fate.