The following piece was produced by the Huffington Post's OffTheBus.
As politicians continue to blow hot air regarding Iran's still-nebulous and uncertain threat to the Mid-East, and as neocons ratchet up their war whoop, what's missing is an examination of the domestic side-effects that would accompany this disastrous would-be war. Two collateral consequences are immediately apparent. First, the administration's current "leave it to the next guy or gal," approach to Middle East foreign policy would reach new and unacceptable heights if Bush engaged Iran in the twilight hours of his presidency. And second, an attack would be disastrous to the 2008 presidential campaign's evolving national dialogue over our domestic agenda.
Let's take up these issues in turn.
1. Bush has entered his golden days in the White House and, as his duck gets lamer, the question becomes whether he should be allowed, from an institutional perspective, to immediately saddle the next president with yet another foreign policy morass. Of course, no legitimate case has yet been made for engaging Iran in the first place, but the policy implications of Bush's ability and willingness to pass not one, but two, of the biggest bucks in history is disturbing. To do so would irrevocably hamstring the next commander in chief and prevent her or him from formulating and shaping the domestic and foreign policies for which the electorate voted. Such a "bomb and bail" policy is simply without precedent in the modern age of American politics. Midnight appointments and pardons are one thing (Scooter, we haven't forgotten ye), but a wee bit of eleventh-hour warfare is quite another.
Bush got Iraq right -- in one respect, at least. He began that crusade early into his tenure as president, giving him what should have been ample time to get the job done. No doubt he thought that he'd tidy up that mess long before his successor came along, and he could turn over a rosy-cheeked Iraq, wrapped in a pretty democracy bow. But best estimates place our military presence in Iraq into 2013, and Zbigniew Brzezinski, our former national security adviser, estimates that attacking Iran would broaden the crusade by another twenty years. Even Bush and his advisers cannot believe that they could execute a targeted strike and restore order before January 2009.
So, the question remains, is there an implicit check on the scope of presidential actions as time runs out on his administration? Should there be? Or, if a Democrat is leading the polls as next November approaches, is a strike on Iran the only way for Bush to foist his grand vision for the Middle East on the president? Come early 2008, when the Democratic nominee presumptively becomes apparent (if she isn't already), that nominee should be prepared to admonish Bush publicly that any military campaign against Iran will be immediately drawn down and ended after his term expires. A preemptive strike, if you will.
2. The second piece of domestic collateral damage following an assault on Iran would be the total realignment of campaign priorities and discourse. Such an attack would completely marginalize all campaign issues (save for Iran and Iraq) that have become the bedrocks of the candidates' campaigns. In other words, kiss goodbye any (much-needed) meaningful national debate on health care, energy, the environment, poverty, immigration, and education. Sure, the candidates will still be grilled on these subjects, and they'll pay them lip service, but few of the merits of these debates will resonate with the electorate.
The timing of such an attack would have much to do with its effect on the candidates, too. If Bush goes Major Kong before or during the early primaries, it would have the further consequence of cementing the nominations for Clinton and Giuliani, who have become the "tough on terror" candidates for their respective parties -- though in certain cases (*cough, Giuliani, cough*), puzzlingly so. The rest of the field had better hope that Bush keeps his finger off the trigger until February, at least.
All kidding aside, we're at about the same place now with Iran that we were in 2003 with Iraq: a select few policymakers have got that same warm tingling feeling and lust for war from incomplete and unreliable intelligence concerning a regime which may never be the threat that it's made out to be. And once we get past this shoddy rationale for war, we see that the collateral consequences to our national dialogue and political interests would be equally devastating. When we sacrifice discussion of our entire domestic agenda each and every election cycle for a referendum on the war, we have already lost.