Andrew Sullivan argues that President Bush is too unpopular to undertake a preemptive strike against Iran. But one could just as easily make the opposite argument — that Bush’s low approval numbers make it more likely that he’ll strike, particularly since opinion polls show wide support for such action. This, of course, is the “wag-the-dog” theory. I put no stock in it because there’s no reason to believe that Bush will make his decision based on political calculation. For the same reason, I put no stock in Sullivan’s speculation.
Sullivan argues, however, that Bush’s lack of popularity constrains his ability to get Congress behind a preemptive attack. But the president’s low approval ratings do not mean that Congress would fail to get behind military action that the public supports, any more than they meant he could not confirm popular Supreme Court nominees. Sullivan seems to think that, because we didn’t find WMD in Iraq, no one will believe that Iran is moving briskly towards the development of nukes. This comparison is specious. For one thing, Iran is a far more open society than Iraq was, and inspectors have been present throughout. If the matter is put to Congress, expect no legislator to contend that Iran isn’t well along in the process of developing nukes. And expect only fringe figures to argue that, because we haven’t ended terrorism in Iraq, we cannot inflict serious damage on Iran through an air campaign.
Moreover, President Bush can bomb Iran without congressional approval. Sullivan argues, without any real analysis or demontrated expertise in the subject matter, that this would be unconstitutional. But the question here is what will Bush do, and it’s quite unlikely that the administration agrees with Sullivan’s view of the Constitution. Sullivan says that a bombing campaign without congressional approval could bring about a constitutional crisis. This depends on the events on the ground after the bombing. But President Bush surely understands that if the bombing campaign proves to be a costly mistake, his administration is lost even if the campaign was launched with congressional approval. That realization may provide an additional reason why Bush won’t undertake such a campaign lightly. It’s not a reason why he won’t attack Iran if he concludes that doing so, on balance, is the best way to protect this country.
Sullivan remains a mindless Bush-basher. He is willing to argue that the president is a reckless cowboy or a pitiful spent force, depending on which Bush will provide the best outlet for portraying the administration in a bad light.