Abe Greenwald posted an insight from a reader, about the temptation that both Obama and Bush may have to fix Iran now, before inauguration day. It is a tempting scenario, but one unlikely to materialize. Bush could have ordered a strike against Iran’s nuclear installations long ago. The reasons for waiting until now are that DoD, the State Department, and Centcom are not, shall we say, enthusiastic about the idea. The President was and remains isolated in the view that bombing Iran might be the only way out of the crisis–if he holds it at all. Obviously, the he can override his advisors and order the military to implement his policies. But what are the precedents for a lameduck president doing such a thing?
The fact is, in recent history only once has a lameduck president committed to a military operation right before leaving office: George H.W. Bush. And then again, it was the deployment of U.S. troops for a humanitarian mission in Somalia. An Iran operation would be a major bombing campaign, holding the risk of a protracted war outlasting Inauguration Day and potentially triggering a regional conflagration. Unlikely that the President will take such a bold and enormously risky step now.
The more valuable precedent cuts in the opposite direction. It was Ronald Reagan’s decision to authorize his ambassador in Tunis, Robert J. Pelletreau Jr., to initiate dialog with the PLO in the late fall of 1988. Such a step enabled the incoming presidency to do precisely what Abe Greenwald’s reader said:
Obama may agree to something like this because he can always blame reprecussions on his predessor, and will have the relief of not having to make that call himself. Win/win for Obama.
Sending Condoleezza Rice to Geneva to meet Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, or announcing the opening of a U.S. interest section in Tehran, appear much more likely steps the Bush administration would wish to engage in to enable Obama to make a U-turn.