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What Happened to Bombing Iran?

How the “hardline” American position on the Islamic Republic got farmed out to Israel.

12:12 PM, Nov 19, 2013 • By LEE SMITH
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What happened to the Iran hawks? In 2007, John McCain famously led a rendition of the Beach Boys’ “Barbara Ann,” substituting the words “Bomb Iran.” Then came the financial crisis, an Obama victory, and the new White House’s determination to have a grand bargain with Tehran. Anyone who questioned the wisdom of Obama’s enthusiasm to make a deal with a state sponsor of terror that had been killing Americans since 1979 just wanted to get a war-weary United States into another Middle East conflict. By the time of the 2012 elections, Mitt Romney was careful not to let himself be painted as a warmongering Republican.

Even as the administration moved the yardsticks on the American debate in order to get the Islamic Republic to play ball, there’s been no change in Iranian behavior. If U.S. troops were still in Iraq they’d be targeted just as they were six years ago when McCain riffed on the Beach Boys—just as U.S. servicemen and women are still being targeted in Afghanistan.

The Iranians are getting a pass now, and virtually everyone is uncomfortable with the notion of bombing Iranian nuclear facilities, due to the success of the administration’s public messaging campaign. Compare this effort to the fact that Obama has never prepared the American public for the possibility of military action. It wouldn’t be very hard to do so. A few public service announcements reminding the electorate of what Iran has done to Americans over the last 34 years—from taking them hostage in Tehran in ’79 and Beirut throughout the ‘80s to killing and maiming them in Iraq and Afghanistan and targeting them with terror attacks in Washington restaurants and JFK airport in New York—would almost surely do the trick.

Instead, the White House’s messaging campaign has been about ostracizing and shaming American “hardliners.” Blessed are the peacemakers. And anyone who wonders why we should spend American prestige so cheaply by treating with an obscurantist, anti-Semitic, clerical dictatorship that tortures and kills its own people, and has participated in a two-and-a-half-year long campaign of sectarian mass murder in Syria, just wants war with Iran.

Even if we thought it was okay to bomb regime targets—and we don’t—according to a host of administration officials, the best American armed forces can do is set Iran’s program back just a few years. Even if Obama discounted this assessment and told his military that he wanted the option of being able to mow the lawn at will—to show the Iranians that every time they tried to rebuild we destroy their facilities, crash their systems, and bomb IRGC bases and barracks until they got the picture—the Iranian people, according to some Iran experts, would rally around the regime.

Of course in the real world, people don’t rally around an authoritarian regime when its prestige project, its crown jewel, is destroyed. What happens rather is that the men of ambition and cunning smell blood and seize the main chance. Moreover, it’s the sanctions that have ostensibly crippled the Iranian economy—or, the ability of every Iranian to put food on the table—that engender contempt for America. Iranians must be wondering: Are the Americans too stupid to understand that it is not we who are responsible for the nuclear program, but the regime. Or is Obama simply cruel? From the perspective of Iranians, the end result of American sanctions is to give them a choice between starvation and taking to the streets to oppose a regime that crushed them like insects when they rose up in June 2009.

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