October 31st, 2010
ICH - Washington Post political correspondent David Broder has kind words for President Barack Obama in in his opinion column Sunday, arguing that it isn't the president's fault the economy is stuck in reverse.
But the four-decade-plus veteran of Washington politics offers a startling solution to the president's political and economic woes: March off to war with Iran.
The president, who is "much smarter" and "more inspirational" than any of his opponents, could benefit from a confrontation with Iran because it would strike up a war machine that would pull the US out of economic stagnation, Broder argues.
He writes that there are "essentially" two ways that an economy can be grown: Through the natural economic cycle, and through war.
Look back at FDR and the Great Depression. What finally resolved that economic crisis? World War II.
Here is where Obama is likely to prevail. With strong Republican support in Congress for challenging Iran's ambition to become a nuclear power, he can spend much of 2011 and 2012 orchestrating a showdown with the mullahs. This will help him politically because the opposition party will be urging him on. And as tensions rise and we accelerate preparations for war, the economy will improve.
"I am not suggesting, of course, that the president incite a war to get reelected," Broder qualifies. "But the nation will rally around Obama because Iran is the greatest threat to the world in the young century."
Broder's column has come in for almost instant criticism from economic and political policy experts. In a blog entry entitled "Has David Broder Lost His Mind?," Foreign Policy managing editor Blake Hounshell writes that Broder's proposal is "crazy for a number of reasons."
One is that markets don't like tensions, and certainly not the kind that jack up oil prices. Second, World War II brought the United States out of the Great Depression because it was a massive economic stimulus program that mobilized entire sectors of society. Today's American military has all the tools it needs to fight Iran, and there isn't going to be any sort of buildup. Hasn't Broder been reading his own newspaper? The Pentagon is looking to find billions in cuts as it confronts the coming world of budget austerity.
Writing at the same magazine, Marc Lynch argues that Broder's column is "an interesting study in how really dumb ideas bounce around Washington DC," and asserts that the Obama administration finds such an idea "ridiculous."
[I]t's not an idea which seems to have any support at all in the Obama White House. ... [T]he Obama team can see perfectly clearly that the American people have no appetite for a third major war in the Middle East and that launching a war with massive strategic consequences for short-term political gain would be epically irresponsible. ... Even if they were primarily interested in their electoral fortunes in designing Iran policy, they would quickly see that such [a strategy] would wipe out their support on the left and gain absolutely zero votes on the right.
Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research argues that Broder's idea for government-driven stimulus isn't wrong, but it doesn't need to be military in nature.
"If spending on war can provide jobs and lift the economy then so can spending on roads, weatherizing homes, or educating our kids. Yes, that's right, all the forms of stimulus spending that Broder derided so much because they add to the deficit will increase GDP and generate jobs just like the war that Broder is advocating (which will also add to the deficit)," Baker writes.
But the harshest criticism comes from Matt Duss at ThinkProgress.
"Especially in light of what has just occurred in Iraq, what kind of moral degenerate seriously suggests we get ready to do it again in neighboring Iran, just as a way to spur job growth?" he asks. "The kind who writes a regular column in the Washington Post, apparently."
Read Broder's full column here.