And don't forget the military-industrial complex, for which the fear of a nuclear-armed Iran means opportunity. They use it to justify that perennial cash cow and Republican favorite: missile defense (which the Romney campaign dutifully promotes on its "Iran: An American Century" webpage). It gives the Pentagon a chance to ask for new bunker busting bombs and to justify the two new classes of pricey littoral combat ships.
If the U.S. were to bomb Iranian facilities -- and inevitably get drawn into a more prolonged conflict -- the cash spigot is likely to open full flood. And don't forget the potential LOGCAP, construction, and private security contracts that might flow over the years (even if there isn't an occupation) to the KBRs, SAICs, DynCorps, Halliburtons, Bechtels, Wackenhuts, Triple Canopies, and Blackwater/Academis of the world. (Too bad there aren't meaningful transparency laws that would let us know how much these companies and their employees have contributed, directly or indirectly, to Romney's campaign or to the think tanks that pay and promote the convenient views of professional ideologues.)
The Problem With Romney
All of this means that the public has been primed for war with Iran. With constant media attention, the Republican candidates have driven home the notion that Iran has or will soon have nuclear weapons, that Iranian nukes present an immediate and existential threat to Israel and the U.S., and that diplomacy is for sissies. If Obama wins, he will have to work even harder to prevent war. If Romney wins, war will be all the easier. And for his team, that's a good thing.
The problem with Romney, you see, is that he hangs out with the wrong crowd -- the regime-change brigade, many of whom steered the ship of state toward Iraq for George W. Bush. And keep in mind that he, like Romney (and Obama), was an empty vessel on foreign affairs when he entered the Oval Office. Even if Iran has been nothing more than a political tool for Romney, regime change is a deep-seated goal for the people around him. They actually want to bomb Iran. They've said so themselves.
Take Robert Kagan. His main perch is at the non-partisan Brookings Institution, but he has also been a leader of the neocon Project for a New American Century and its successor organization, the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI). "Regime change in Tehran," he has written, "is the best nonproliferation policy."
Kagan's fellow directors at the FPI are also on Romney's team: Bill Kristol, Eric Edelman (former staffer to Cheney and Douglas Feith's successor at the Pentagon), and former Coalition Provisional Authority spokesman Dan Senor, who has become Romney's most trusted foreign policy advisor and a rumored contender for national security advisor. The FPI's position? "It is time to take military action against the Iranian government elements that support terrorism and its nuclear program. More diplomacy is not an adequate response."
Or how about John Bolton, Bush's U.N. ambassador and a frequent speaker on behalf of the MEK, who has said, "The better way to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons is to attack its nuclear weapons program directly and break their control over the nuclear fuel cycle," and that "we should be prepared to take down the regime in Tehran."
And the list goes on.
It is, of course, theoretically possible that a President Romney would ignore his neocon team's advice, just as George W. Bush famously ignored the moderate Republican advice of his father's team. Still, it's hard to imagine him giving the cold shoulder to the sages of the previous administration: Cheney, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. Indeed, Romney is said to turn to the "Cheney-ites" when he seeks counsel, while giving the more moderate Republican internationalists the cold shoulder. And Cheney wanted to bomb Iran.
In a Romney administration, expect this gang to lobby him hard to finish the job and take out Iran's nuclear facilities, or at least to give Israel the green light to do so. Expect them to close their eyes to what we have learned in Iraq and Afghanistan when it comes to "blood and treasure." Expect them to say that bombing alone will do the trick "surgically." Expect them to claim that the military high command is "soft," "bureaucratic," and "risk-averse" when it hesitates to get involved in what will inevitably become a regional nightmare. Expect the message to be: this time we'll get it right.
Kenneling the Dogs of War
No one likes the idea of Iran getting nukes, but should the regime decide to pursue them, they don't present an existential threat to anyone. Tehran's leaders know that a mushroom cloud in Tel Aviv, no less Washington, would turn their country into a parking lot.
Should the mullahs ever pursue nuclear weapons again, it would be for deterrence, for the ability to stand up to the United States and say, "Piss off." While that might present a challenge for American foreign policy interests -- especially those related to oil -- it has nothing to do with the physical safety of Israel or the United States.
War with Iran is an incredibly bad idea, yet it's a real threat. President Obama has come close to teeing it up. Even talk of a preemptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities is delusional, because, as just about every analyst points out, we wouldn't know if it had worked (which it probably wouldn't) and it would be an act of war that Iran wouldn't absorb with a smile. In its wake, a lot of people would be likely to die.
But Romney's guys don't think it's a bad idea. They think it's a good one, and they are ready to take a swing.