Veteran Washington Post writer David Broder is generally thought to be a decent guy, one of the “deans” of Washington journalism and punditry. I’m not a huge fan of his, I think his politics are kind of “high-brow moderate,” but his colums in the Post and appearances on TV are generally okay, at least reasonable, even if one disagrees with his viewpoint (and his campaign trail reporting usually rings true).
So his Post column yesterday advocating President Obama threaten war with Iran in order to improve the economy and his re-election prospects was a bit of a shocker to read over my morning coffee. I was tempted to ask what he was smoking, but Harvard Professor Stephen Walt beat me to it with his blog for Foreign Policy.
Lots of activists and bloggers are refuting Broder, which is good and necessary, and it’s possible Broder may even decide to retract or “advise and extend his remarks” as they say in Washington. A few good ones I’ve read are from Juan Cole, Dean Baker and Marc Lynch, which take on the economic and moral aspects of Broder’s “argument.”
I wrote a letter to the editor to the Post, so I need to be careful not to reveal too much here (as they won’t print anything that has already been published elsewhere), though I did bring in an element I haven’t seen in other blogs so far, that the solution to Iran’s possible pursuit of nuclear weapons is to establish a Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone in the Middle East (a conference is to be convened in 2012 to do just that). After you read Broder’s column, please write a letter to the editor (send it to firstname.lastname@example.org and Cc Broder at email@example.com), it would be great for the paper and for Mr. Broder to hear from a lot of folks with better ideas about resolving conflict with Iran, rejuvenating the economy and, if you wish, how the president might get re-elected.
UPDATE: The Post published two other pretty good letters challenging Broder today, so they likely won’t print mine. Here’s what I sent in:
To the editor:
David Broder (“The war recovery,” Op-Ed, October 31) ends his column about the economy, President Obama’s 2012 re-election prospects and Iran stating that he does not advocate the president “incite a war to get re-elected.” Yet how else would the reader interpret Broder’s suggestion that the president spend the next two years “orchestrating a showdown with the mullahs” which will “help him (the president) politically?”
Broder’s column troubles me on so many levels it’s hard to de-construct them all, but here are three aspects for starters. Number one, independent economic studies over the last few decades have shown military spending is just about the worst way to stimulate the economy. Investing a given amount of money in any other sector of the economy (education, infrastructure or health care for example), or just giving a broad tax cut, stimulates more jobs and economic activity than military spending.
Broder’s argument is also extremely troubling, both morally and practically, in a “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander” kind of way. Would he advocate Iran’s “orchestrating a showdown” with Israel or other neighbors as a way to stimulate its faltering economy? How about India and Pakistan threatening each other with their nuclear arsenals in order to boost their economies? Japan and China are now arguing over islands each claim in the Pacific Ocean – should they threaten war over this, or over their interests in the region? All these conflicts need fewer, not more, military threats or orchestrated “showdowns.”
Finally, Broder ignores the most common sense way to deal with Iran’s possible nuclear weapons ambitions, the establishment of a Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone in the Middle East. This has been advocated since the 1970’s, and it received renewed attention at last May’s Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, which issued a call for a 2012 conference on this issue to be convened. Iran and nearly all the countries of the region, except Israel, the only current nuclear power in the Middle East, have endorsed the concept of a Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone.
Broder noted the president is smarter than all his potential challengers. Let’s hope he’s also smarter than Broder, and decides negotiation rather than brinksmanship is the way to deal with Iran, and finds ways other than threatening another war to stimulate the economy. Coincidentally, those steps might well guarantee Mr. Obama’s re-election.
Peace Action and Peace Action Education Fund