So, David Broder has concerns! The economic situation in America is presenting a "daunting situation" that could prevent President Barack Obama from "storm[ing] back to win a second term in 2012." (It also presents a "daunting situation" for millions of Americans who aren't the president, but just go with David here.)
How can Obama "harness the forces that might spur new growth?" Sure, there is "the power of the business cycle," but "economists struggle to analyze this," so Broder's not going to linger too long on whatever might be done in that arena. Instead, has anyone considered maybe -- I don't know -- bombing the daylights out of Iran?
What else might affect the economy? The answer is obvious, but its implications are frightening. War and peace influence the economy.
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.
Wow. Jeezy creezy. Deep breath. Where to begin with this? Here's a fun fact: for much of the economic downturn, we were heavily involved in two wars. I read about this somewhere, I think! As it turns out, they aren't deficit neutral. Whats more, they are tremendously effective resource drainers. And the first resource that's been drained is our military personnel, who have spent the past decade on long, backbreaking deployments. It makes you wonder: who are we going to "accelerate preparations for war" with exactly? It's not like we have an infinite supply of troops upon which to draw.
And I don't know if David Broder is up on current events, many of which have been ably reported on in a newspaper called The Washington Post, but the new and emerging threat that's drawing our attention and resources is coming from Yemen -- a troubled state where the latest, greatest al Qaeda faction is testing its operational abilities and our defenses.
But let's say that we have some massive number of troops available to deploy or that Obama can convince the "opposition party" to drop our efforts in Afghanistan to have this great new war against an opponent with a substantially better state-run military than we've faced in Iraq and Afghanistan. What is the economic benefit? As Matt Yglesias points out, not much:
The economics, however, is questionable. It's true that a net increase in government purchases would increase economic growth. But as Dean Baker notes one hardly needs a war to produce a net increase in government purchases: "If spending on war can provide jobs and lift the economy then so can spending on roads, weatherizing homes, or educating our kids." The point is that anything that mobilizes real resources will fight idleness and unemployment. What's wanted, however, is to mobilize real resources in order to do something useful.
One should also consider the very real possibility that war with Iran would lead to a depression inducing supply-side shock through a spike in energy prices. Even worse, war is bad for children and other living things! An alternative military stimulus would just involve doing the stepped-up military purchases but then doing absolutely nothing with the new equipment and personnel. That would have the same economic impact, but nobody would need to die.
There's also this little problem. If Iran is heading down a path that ends with a functional nuke, then painting a target on Tehran is only going to spur the mullahs to achieve that goal with all deliberate speed. Additionally, an increase in bellicosity from the Obama administration will also drive internal Iranian dissidents right back into the arms of the regime.
It's a crazy idea! And what's downright disturbing is that this is coming from the pundit who preaches the need for lawmakers to constantly be achieving a soggy, bipartisan consensus, where good policy is secondary to anything that can win 80 votes in the Senate. If ramping up a military strike on Iran is one of the few avenues by which Broder thinks this sort of cooperation can be garnered, then we really truly have a broken system of government.
A secondary concern is that Broder has in recent weeks started to see the members of the "opposition party" as woefully extreme. Back in August, the seeming willingness among the GOP to throw out the Fourteenth Amendment seemed to be the bridge too far that finally drew Broder's concerns: "That is a radical change, freighted with emotional baggage, and if this is an example of what it would mean to have more Republicans on Capitol Hill, watch out."
Obviously, it's weird to hear that maybe if we could all agree to prepare for a nice little shooting war with Iran, we can temper our ideological extremes, achieve bipartisan consensus and dig the economy out of a ditch. All for the benefit of getting Obama re-elected, mind you.
Naturally, Broder includes a paragraph that seems intractably contradictory to the piece's entire premise:
I am not suggesting, of course, that the president incite a war to get reelected. But the nation will rally around Obama because Iran is the greatest threat to the world in the young century. If he can confront this threat and contain Iran's nuclear ambitions, he will have made the world safer and may be regarded as one of the most successful presidents in history.
Honestly, if he's not "suggesting... that the president incite a war to get re-elected," then he's got a funny way of expressing it. He says, outright, that "as tensions rise and we accelerate preparations for war, the economy will improve," and that "here is where Obama is likely to prevail." Did he forget that he wrote that, in earlier paragraphs?