This past summer during one of the last episodes of HBO's mega-hit "The
Sopranos," A.J., the whiny suicidal son of the show's mafia boss
anti-hero, was heard to worry about what he saw as the certain bombing
of Iran by President Bush.
"You don't know that," his mafia princess sister responded.
Though this stray snippet, which was widely noted in reviews of the
show, did not offer any clues as to the fate of the fictional leaders
of the North Jersey mafia, it may have heralded the beginning of a new
twist on what it means to be "anti-war" in 2007 America. The issue that
the series' creators snuck into the public square is beginning to look
more like one that will loom larger in the months to come.
HATING BUSH AND CHENEY
On the face of it, Iran ought not to be a source of much partisan
Few on even the far left or far right are going to say anything nice
about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or his mullah masters, or
be many willing to defend the Islamic republic's support for terrorism
throughout the Middle East, including their sponsorship of Hezbollah
and alliance with Hamas.
And what reasonable person is not scared to death of the idea of Tehran
achieving its ambition of acquiring nuclear capability, in addition to
the possibility that it would have within its grasp a weapon that would
make its oft-stated goal of eradicating the State of Israel a very real
But that notwithstanding, the administration push to start putting
pressure on Iran to back away from its nuclear program is not exactly
generating across the board support.
That became apparent this month after President Bush's statement that a
nuclear Iran could lead directly to World War III. Further reporting in
many newspapers pointed to Vice President Dick Cheney as one of the
main advocates in the administration of strong action to stop Tehran.
Yet rather than Bush's ultimatum being regarded as a sensible warning
being sent to Ahmadinejad, the reaction from many in the chattering and
political classes was close to panic.
In response, The New York Times editorial column spoke as if the
nation's leaders needed to be committed to a mental institution, as it
prayed for someone in Washington to step forward to stop "the crazies"
from going to the brink with Iran.
And on the campaign trail, an unexceptional White House-backed measure
to label the Iranian Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization
became the subject of a highly charged debate between the Democratic
candidates for president.
When the Senate voted on the measure, Democratic front-runner Sen.
Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), acting like someone who actually believes
that she will become our commander-in-chief, voted yes. But two of her
challengers, Sens. Barrack Obama (D-Ill.) and Joe Biden (D-Del.) voted
no. Former senator and fellow presidential hopeful John Edwards joined
them in chiding Hillary because they consider it a first step toward
granting Bush the power to wage war on Iran.
While Clinton stood her ground, she couched the defense of her vote in
such a way as to possibly preclude any support for the future use of
force against Iran.
That might be put down as just a tempest in a primary teapot, but there
is every indication that anger over this vote is something that
Clinton's opponents will be seeking to tap into, especially as her lead
All of which means that rather than a point of consensus, the need to
stop Iran is likely to become a wedge issue in the Democratic primaries
and caucuses, since many of those who will soon vote are actually more
afraid of Bush than they are of Iran.
Liberal Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen acknowledged this when
he wrote recently to support the designation of the Iranian
Revolutionary Guards. Noting that Iran is responsible not only for
terror in Iraq but for the massacre of scores of Jewish victims in the
1994 bombing of a Jewish Center in Buenos Aires, Cohen sees the growing
opposition to a strong stance against Iran as a rerun of the crippling
defeatism that sapped the will of Britain and France to resist Hitler
in the 1930s. He blames this all on Bush and Cheney, whose pre-war
statements on Iraq have engendered cynicism about intelligence matters
and Middle East-based threats.
Yet whether or not the administration deserves all of the blame here
(and breaking up the consensus on the war against Islamist terror must
be attributed to his foes as much as anything Bush and Cheney did),
what Cohen was acknowledging is that the demon-like status of Bush and
Cheney that has become a cornerstone of partisan rhetoric is now the
greatest obstacle to mobilizing support for action on Iran.
Like Cohen, you can dump on Bush all you want for the mistakes in Iraq
and the stalemate in Afghanistan, while giving them no credit for
anything. But for those who understand what a nuclear Iran will mean,
accepting this situation is not an option. So long as many on the
political left and even some in the center view anything that the
administration supports as inherently evil, it's going to mean the
campaign to pressure Iran will be a divisive issue that will inevitably
2009'S TOO LATE
Knowledgeable observers see Clinton as being more than willing to
support the use of U.S. power against a terrorist state, provided, that
is, she's the one ordering the use of force and not Bush. If she wins
next November, that will be a reasonable position once she's sworn in
as president in January 2009. Yet Clinton will be pressed in the
intervening 15 months to distance herself from anything Bush does.
But the problem, as Bush noted last month, is that the stakes involved
in Iran being allowed to do what it likes involve the possibility of
While all those interested in stopping Tehran, especially Israel, want
desperately to avoid the use of force, the likelihood of meaningful
U.N. economic sanctions being enacted are slim to none. With China and
especially Russia backing him up, Ahmadinejad can cheerfully thumb his
nose at Bush. The only hope that this can be changed is if our European
allies and our Russian and Chinese antagonists no longer perceive
Bush as isolated on this issue.
If Hillary Clinton were to stop apologizing for winding up on the same
side as Bush on Iran, and instead begin talking more about the cost
that American failure on this issue would entail, it might not only
strengthen her future position as president, but could also serve to
rally international support for sanctions now while they still have
some small chance of working.
Waiting for 2009 to make Iran a consensus issue may appeal to some
partisans, but the interests of the nation and international peace
require that it be moved up on the agenda, even if it means that she
may be spurned by some primary voters. Like it or not, both Clinton and
pro-Israel Democrats need this to be one issue on which they are
willing to support Bush now.