As John McCain’s painfully unfunny rewrite of the lyrics to Beach Boys’ hit Barbara Ann demonstrates, at least the former Republican presidential contender can see the lighter side of mounting a US airstrike on Iranian nuclear facilities.
Fortunately for the rest of the world, Barack Obama has not only shown no inclination to ‘bomb bomb Iran’, but has so far actively restrained Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu from following Mr McCain’s advice. Had he not done so, the likelihood is that Israel would already have acted.
That is to Obama’s credit, and might give some of his more simpleminded leftwing critics cause for reflection. Washington foreign policy may still not be an untrammeled force for planet-wide benevolence, but at least it has moved on since 2003.
So there are reasonable hopes that the P5+1 talks – which enter into a second round in Baghdad next month – point the way to some sort of settlement of the question on which peace in the Middle East now hangs.
EU foreign minister Catherine Ashton has stated that the West accepts Iran’s right, as a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, to a peaceful nuclear programme, which is surely beyond dispute.
No one need take the sincerity of the fatwa against the acquisition of nuclear weapons offered by Ayatollah Ali Khameni, Iran’s supreme leader, at face value; regular intrusive inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities, in return for the gradual suspension of sanctions, form an obvious basis for a deal.
The known unknown in all this is, of course, Israel. This very day, the country’s chief of staff has given a newspaper interview stressing his preparedness to undertake military action should the politicians decide to do so.
Meanwhile, a prominent guest speaker has told an Israeli Labor Party conference that ‘a little paranoia can’t hurt’ when dealing with Iran. Most of us would prefer that decisions be taken by a government in full possession of its mental faculties.
Should an Israeli strike come to pass in the next few months, Iran is certain to retaliate. That will ramp up the pressure on Obama exponentially, with the combined weight of the Israel lobby, what remains of the neocons, the bomb bomb Iran brigade in the GOP, conservative commentators, ‘fair and balanced’ Fox News and evangelical Christians demanding that the US throw its weight behind the aggressor.
Obama may not be strong enough to resist such a line up. But consequences of even a ‘small war’ would be disastrous, even on best case scenarios.
True, the US would emerge on top in the event of any conflict. It already has 40,000 troops in the Gulf, equipped with strike aircraft, two aircraft carrier groups, two ballistic missile defence ships and multiple anti-missiles systems. There are a further 90,000 combatants in Afghanistan and thousands more in central Asia.
But as detailed in an article by former Obama defence staffer Colin Kahl in the current edition of Foreign Affairs, Iran will not be a pushover. Tehran possesses extensive so-called ‘area denial capabilities’ sufficient to prevent other navies operating efficiently in the Persian Gulf.
These include coastal air defences, shore-based long-range artillery, anti-ship cruise missiles, midget submarines, remote-controlled boats and unmanned aircraft. It also has at its disposal over 1,000 small attack craft kitted out with machine guns, multiple-launch rockets, missiles, torpedos and mine laying capability.
As well as the immediate cost in human lives, the impact on oil prices at a time of fragility for world economy, and on the politics of a region already aflame, also need to form part of any rational calculation.
And if Mitt Romney should emerge the victor this November, let us pray that he is not a Beach Boys fan.