Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 7, 2012

Can Israel Strike Iran?

Bret Stephens at the Wall Street Journal has a column today asking whether Israel can bomb Iran. He writes:

Put simply, an Israeli strike on Iran would not just be a larger-scale reprise of the attacks that took out Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981 and Syria’s in 2007. On the contrary: If it goes well it would look somewhat like the Six-Day War of 1967, and if it goes poorly like the Yom Kippur War of 1973. Nobody should think we’re talking about a cakewalk.

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Bret Stephens at the Wall Street Journal has a column today asking whether Israel can bomb Iran. He writes:

Put simply, an Israeli strike on Iran would not just be a larger-scale reprise of the attacks that took out Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981 and Syria’s in 2007. On the contrary: If it goes well it would look somewhat like the Six-Day War of 1967, and if it goes poorly like the Yom Kippur War of 1973. Nobody should think we’re talking about a cakewalk.

While many proponents of a military strike draw parallels to Israel’s strike against the Iraqi reactor in 1981, or its attack on the Syrian nuclear facility in 2007, Stephens is correct to note that the Iranian situation is far different, but he doesn’t go far enough: Even if Israeli pilots managed to fly into Iran with surprise, they will not be able to fly out with surprise once they drop their ordnance. This means that, even before Israeli planes can strike at Iranian nuclear facilities, they would have to strike enemy airfields, surface-to-air missile batteries, command and control centers, and radars. Multiple planes would then strike at the same target to better ensure success. In short, this could mean more than 1,000 sorties. Certainly, Israel has submarines and unmanned drones, but these alone will not suffice.

Too often, discussion about a military strike revolves around the bunker buster issue. This is not a make-or-break issue. While Iran has buried facilities under mountains—not the usual stuff of a civilian energy program—it would suffice to destroy the entrances or exits to such facilities. Israel timed its strike on Osirak to pre-empt the loading of nuclear fuel into the reactor. Iran’s centrifuges are already spinning, so if Israel collapses entrances to the mountain facility, Greenpeace should dance a hora of joy.

Stephens is correct that a strike would likely delay Iran’s nuclear program. Such a strike would come at a high cost, though experts can debate the length of the delay. In all likelihood, it would not equate to the setback suffered by Saddam Hussein in Iraq, whose own missteps in Kuwait contributed to further sanctions and war, extending the delay beyond Israel’s wildest dreams. Still, the real question for policymakers is what plans are in place to take advantage of such a delay. Ultimately, until policymakers are willing to discuss the real problem—not Iran’s potential nuclear weapons but the regime which would wield them—there will be no lasting solution.

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The Santorum Scenario’s Day of Decision

The Republican presidential race is still at the stage where it is possible to spin theories about how frontrunner Mitt Romney can be toppled. Those scenarios aren’t particularly likely, but if there’s any credence to them at all, a couple of things are going to have to happen today to put a dent in the frontrunner’s armor. Newt Gingrich’s southern strategy requires him to survive a long wait until the next GOP debate scheduled for February 22 and to win big on Super Tuesday on March 6. But that’s a fairy tale for another day. Today’s long shot involves a Rick Santorum win in Minnesota and/or Missouri in order to elevate the former Pennsylvania senator to the position of the leading “non-Romney” as well as the standard bearer for conservatives in the race. But unlike Gingrich’s plans, which are undermined by the former speaker’s open hatred for Romney, the Santorum opening today is no fantasy.

The Minnesota caucus appears to be Santorum’s for the taking with the only current published poll of the state showing him with a narrow lead. And the Pennsylvanian has a real chance of knocking off Romney in the non-binding primary in Missouri. Though Romney is set to roll to a big win in Colorado, if Santorum can pull off upsets in at least one and possibly two of the other two states to vote today, it may not stop Romney but it could put a spike in Gingrich and enable Santorum to emerge as his main challenger.

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The Republican presidential race is still at the stage where it is possible to spin theories about how frontrunner Mitt Romney can be toppled. Those scenarios aren’t particularly likely, but if there’s any credence to them at all, a couple of things are going to have to happen today to put a dent in the frontrunner’s armor. Newt Gingrich’s southern strategy requires him to survive a long wait until the next GOP debate scheduled for February 22 and to win big on Super Tuesday on March 6. But that’s a fairy tale for another day. Today’s long shot involves a Rick Santorum win in Minnesota and/or Missouri in order to elevate the former Pennsylvania senator to the position of the leading “non-Romney” as well as the standard bearer for conservatives in the race. But unlike Gingrich’s plans, which are undermined by the former speaker’s open hatred for Romney, the Santorum opening today is no fantasy.

The Minnesota caucus appears to be Santorum’s for the taking with the only current published poll of the state showing him with a narrow lead. And the Pennsylvanian has a real chance of knocking off Romney in the non-binding primary in Missouri. Though Romney is set to roll to a big win in Colorado, if Santorum can pull off upsets in at least one and possibly two of the other two states to vote today, it may not stop Romney but it could put a spike in Gingrich and enable Santorum to emerge as his main challenger.

The electorate in Minnesota seems to resemble that of Iowa where Santorum got his only victory so far with evangelicals and social conservatives dominating. That presents the perfect opening for Santorum, who is the one GOP hopeful most identified with the Christian right. Even Romney’s camp seems to acknowledge they have an uphill battle there. Romney’s chief surrogate Tim Pawlenty is going all out to try and convince Minnesota Tea Partiers that an earmark-loving big government conservative such as Santorum isn’t for them. But the former Minnesota governor — who seems much more comfortable roughing up Santorum than he was attacking Romney during his time in the presidential contest — has a difficult task convincing Minnesotans to back the frontrunner.

Missouri is another great opportunity for Santorum because he largely has had the state to himself. As was the case in Virginia, Gingrich’s incompetent and chaotic campaign wasn’t up to the task of assuring their candidate a place on the ballot.  And Romney has decided that because no delegates are up for grabs in this beauty contest, it’s not worth his time when other states offer bigger prizes. So that leaves Santorum with a chance to score in another state where conservatives could bring him victory. Wins in Minnesota and Missouri will help Santorum raise money and also discourage those thinking of pouring more cash down the Gingrich sinkhole.

As I’ve been writing the last couple of weeks, Santorum may not have fared particularly well in the last few states to vote, but he has burnished his image as a decent politician by staying out of the mudslinging that has characterized an increasingly bitter battle between Gingrich and Romney. That, along with the sympathy that was generated by the illness of Santorum’s little daughter Bella, has allowed the public to see a side of the senator that has often been obscured by his hard line stands on social issues: his essential decency. Too often he has allowed himself to come off as a public scold hounding the country on issues relating to abortion and gays and potentially alienating even some who might agree with him. But lately, he has seemed like the nicest guy left in the GOP field, and that is not a negligible quality.

Of course, even if today works out exactly as Santorum plans, that won’t necessarily do much to derail Romney as Santorum isn’t likely to best the frontrunner in many states that have yet to hold elections. And if Romney can steal Minnesota and Missouri from him without even trying hard then that will be the end of even the faintest hope of a Santorum surge. But if he does prevail, then we may be hearing a lot more from Santorum in the next couple of months.

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The Romney Machine Rolls On

With Mitt Romney’s overwhelming victory in Nevada– he won just over 50 percent of the vote –the former Massachusetts governor has secured three double-digit wins in the Northeast (New Hampshire), the West (Nevada), and the South (Florida). He remains in the catbird seat. For him to lose the nomination would require an epic collapse. I rather doubt we’ll see it.

What makes this week marginally interesting is whether Rick Santorum supplants Newt Gingrich as the “conservative alternative” to Romney. That depends on how Santorum does tomorrow in Colorado and Minnesota, the next states that hold GOP nominating contests, as well as Missouri, which holds a “beauty contest” (the state’s official nominating process takes place later in the year). It seems to me, and increasingly to others, that Santorum is a far better figure for conservatives to rally behind than Gingrich, whose weaknesses I have dealt with at length in the past. I’ll only add that at his press conference on Saturday Gingrich looked to be seething with rage for Romney, and he demonstrated, one more time, that he simply doesn’t have the emotional balance and temperamental traits that one looks for in a president. There’s something a bit sad in watching Gingrich, who has done a great deal for the conservative cause in his life, burn up like this.

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With Mitt Romney’s overwhelming victory in Nevada– he won just over 50 percent of the vote –the former Massachusetts governor has secured three double-digit wins in the Northeast (New Hampshire), the West (Nevada), and the South (Florida). He remains in the catbird seat. For him to lose the nomination would require an epic collapse. I rather doubt we’ll see it.

What makes this week marginally interesting is whether Rick Santorum supplants Newt Gingrich as the “conservative alternative” to Romney. That depends on how Santorum does tomorrow in Colorado and Minnesota, the next states that hold GOP nominating contests, as well as Missouri, which holds a “beauty contest” (the state’s official nominating process takes place later in the year). It seems to me, and increasingly to others, that Santorum is a far better figure for conservatives to rally behind than Gingrich, whose weaknesses I have dealt with at length in the past. I’ll only add that at his press conference on Saturday Gingrich looked to be seething with rage for Romney, and he demonstrated, one more time, that he simply doesn’t have the emotional balance and temperamental traits that one looks for in a president. There’s something a bit sad in watching Gingrich, who has done a great deal for the conservative cause in his life, burn up like this.

As for Governor Romney: he’s now in excellent position to win the nomination. He’s winning elections, which is what matters. Non-Romney voters have not so far coalesced among any of the other candidates. Romney dominates among the GOP’s moderate wing, including non-Tea Party supporters and non-evangelicals. Most Republicans see him as the candidate with the best chance to beat President Obama in the fall. More than seven in 10 believe he’ll be the eventual nominee. He’s repelled every assault against him, having shown he can lift his game. And he retains a vast advantage over the other candidates in terms of money and organization.

But Romney still faces challenges. Voter turnout remains surprisingly low in most of the contests so far. He might be a bit vulnerable in parts of the Midwest. To date, he hasn’t been able to convince voters his campaign is tied to a great cause (it’s very Romney-centric right now). The cage match against Gingrich has hurt Romney’s reputation with (among others) independent voters. And nationally, Romney still doesn’t fair all that well among those who identify themselves as “very conservative” and evangelicals. It should be said, however, that Romney does quite well among those who consider themselves “somewhat conservative” and, as Jay Cost points out, Romney is actually pulling in the second-largest number of “very conservative” votes, and among all conservatives (“somewhat” and “very”), he leads Gingrich, 39 percent to 35 percent.

Where things stand at this moment, then, is that the Romney machine rolls on against a weak field. It’s hard to see how he’ll be stopped. Right now, Romney is a strong but not yet an outstanding candidate, steady and reassuring but hardly inspiring. And he needs to find a way to connect with working class voters. In short, he still needs to improve as he turns his attention to Obama, who is on the upswing. My guess is Romney will.

 

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