I know it is election season.

I know Republican politicians for the last decade have been willing to say anything (Hello, Dick Cheney, and you too George Bush) to make counties with no capability to attack the United States into monstrous threats and to lambaste their Democratic opponents with outrageous claims that electing Democrats will lead to death and destruction by Saddam, Al Qaida Islamofascists. But usually they left the most rabid, craziest fear mongering to idiots like John Bolton or one of many little known, obscure Republican House member from heavily red states.

Not anymore. Now even so-called “moderate” Republicans, such as Senator Lindsey Graham, are getting in on this media circus act. Graham yesterday rattled his saber, showed the “bloody shirt” and demanded we let slip the dogs of war (take your pick of cliches) against — what a surprise! — Iran:

WASHINGTON — Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said Monday that the United States must be prepared to use military force to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon — and added that the last-resort step should be taken with the goal of overthrowing Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Graham, a military lawyer and a senior Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, became the first senator to support direct U.S. military intervention in Iran, saying it should not involve ground troops but be launched by U.S. warplanes and ships.

“If you use military force against Iran, you’ve opened up Pandora’s box,” Graham told the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. “If you allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon, you’ve emptied Pandora’s box. I’d rather open up Pandora’s box than empty it.”

This is irresponsible rhetoric from anyone in a position of authority, but that is nothing new for the Republicans in Congress. Still, the idea that opening Pandora’s box is better than emptying it? Uh, Lindsey, didn’t they teach you in grade school that once you open Pandora’s box it empties itself? What a maroon.

The truth is Iran does not have a nuclear weapon at present, and there is more than a little doubt that as soon as they get one (if that is their goal) they will use it against Israel. Why? Because they may be crazy (according to our standards) but they aren’t stupid.

The politicians and generals of US and the old Soviet Union during the Cold War era often made rhetorical statements back in the day regarding the destruction they could and would wreak on the other country. They had vastly more nukes than Iran could ever produce, but when push came to shove in 1962 and 1973, both sides backed away from the precipice.

India and Pakistan have been living with the same prospect of MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) for 2 decades and despite the often vile and violent rhetoric from various leaders of one of them toward the other no one has fire off a nuke, despite an ongoing low level conflict in Kashmir and terrorist attacks against India in which Pakistan’s Intelligence services have been implicated.

Iran has neither the technology nor the arsenal to destroy Israel in a first strike even if it had the Bomb, which at present no one with any knowledge of the situation believes is the case. Even if they did, Israel would retaliate with its far greater and more sophisticated nuclear arsenal.

It’s a shame that Graham feels he has to trot out this old bogeyman in 2010 to try to win a few votes. Frankly, after all the bullpucky about “imminent doom” and “WMDs in the hands of terrorists” that we now know the Republicans under Bush and Cheney fed us every election cycle, I suspect most reasonable people will tune him out. Only the most fanatical Tea Party types (and Republican operatives) who believe anything that a Republican or Fox News host says will get their panties in a twist over his statement.

But lets examine what the consequences of an attack on Iran would cause. First every expert from the CIA to other national defense analysts acknowledge that an attack would set back Iran’s ability to build a weapon by only a few years at best. The consequences of the attack, on the other hand are likely to be profound and devastating to the US and to Israel.

WASHINGTON — Here’s a war game involving Iran, Israel and the U.S. that shows how unintended consequences can spin out of control:

With diplomacy failing and precious intelligence just received about two new secret Iranian nuclear facilities, Israel launches a pre-emptive strike against Tehran’s nuclear complex. The strike is successful, wiping out six of Iran’s key sites and setting back its suspected quest for a bomb by years.

But what happens next isn’t pretty. […]

Instead, Iran attacks Israel, both directly and through its proxies in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip. It misinterprets U.S. actions as weakness and mines the Straits of Hormuz, the world’s chief oil artery. That sparks a clash and a massive U.S. military reinforcement in the Persian Gulf.

This recent war game conducted at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, part of the Washington-based Brookings Institution, a center-left think tank, appears to dampen hopes for a simple solution to Iran’s real-world nuclear challenge. […]

By the end of the simulation, eight days after the fictitious Israeli strike, Israel’s prime minister, under heavy domestic pressure, is forced to launch a 48-hour air blitz in southern Lebanon to halt rocket attacks from Hezbollah, the militant group sponsored by Iran. Israeli officials know the blitz is unlikely to achieve its objectives, and prepare a larger, costlier operation in Lebanon, including ground forces. […]

Iran did not retaliate directly against the United States or U.S. troops in Iraq or Afghanistan. But it struck back at Israel, then attacked Dharan in eastern Saudi Arabia, then began mining the Straits of Hormuz.

“There would be almost no incentive for Iran not to respond” with force, said another participant, a member of the Iranian team. “It was interesting to see how useful it was for Tehran to push the limits.”

We would have a third major war in the region that would far outstrip our military’s capabilities and lead to the deaths of thousands of Iranians, Palestinians, Israelis, people in Lebanon and Americans. The consequences to the world’s shaky economic system likely would be even worse:

#1) The Price Of Oil Would Skyrocket – One of the very first things a war with Iran would do is that it would severely constrict or even shut down oil shipments through the Strait of Hormuz. Considering the fact that approximately 20% of the world’s oil flows through the Strait of Hormuz, world oil markets would instantly be plunged into a frenzy. In fact, some analysts believe that oil prices would rise to $250 per barrel. […]

#2) Fear Would Explode In World Financial Markets – Even without a war, the dominant force in world financial markets in 2010 is fear. We are already seeing unprecedented volatility in financial markets around the globe, and there is nothing like a war to turn fear into a full-fledged panic. And what happens when panic grips financial markets? What happens is that they crash.

#3) World Trade Would Instantly Seize Up – Once upon a time the economies of the world were relatively self-contained, so a war in one area would not necessarily wreck economies all over the globe. But all of that has changed now. Today, the economies of virtually every nation are highly interdependent. That has some advantages, but it also has a lot of disadvantages.

If a war with Iran did break out, nations all over the globe would start taking sides and world trade would seize up. The global flow of goods and services would be severely interrupted. That would be enough to push many nations around the world into a full-blown depression.

#4) Military Spending Would Escalate – Even if the United States was not pulled directly into a conflict between Israel and Iran, there is little doubt that the U.S. would be spending a lot of money and resources to support Israel and to build up military assets in the region in case a wider war broke out. The U.S. has already spent somewhere in the neighborhood of a trillion dollars on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. If war does break out with Iran the amount of money the U.S. government could be forced to spend could be absolutely staggering.

The truth is that the U.S. is already drowning in debt. At this point the U.S. government is over 13 trillion dollars in debt, and another Middle East war is certainly not going to help things.

#5) Russia Would Greatly Benefit – Russia and other major oil producers outside of the Middle East would greatly benefit if a war with Iran erupts. Russia is already the number one oil producer in the world, and if supplies out of the Middle East were disrupted for any period of time it would mean an unprecedented windfall for the Russian Bear.

#6) Massive Inflation – A huge jump in the price of oil and dramatically increased military spending by the U.S. government would most definitely lead to price inflation. We would probably see a dramatic rise in interest rates as well. In fact, it is quite likely that if a war with Iran does break out we would see a return of “stagflation” – a situation where prices are rapidly escalating but economic growth as a whole is either flat or declining.

#7) The Price Of Gold Would Go Through The Roof – When there is a high degree of uncertainty in world financial markets, where do investors turn? As we have seen very clearly recently, they turn to gold. As high as the price of gold is now, the truth is that it is nothing compared to what would happen if a war with Iran breaks out. When times get tough, we almost always see a flight to safety. Right now none of the major currencies around the globe provide much safety, so investors are increasingly viewing precious metals such as gold and silver as a wealth preservation tool.

Frankly Lindsey Graham, so-called reasonable Republican (I know, that’s beginning to be an oxymoron) must be aware that opening the “Pandora’s box” on a war with Iran would be suicidal. Nothing good would come out of it.

Especially since even a nuclear armed Iran is simply not as dangerous as many on the right claim. Don’t take my word for it, listen to what Zbigniew Brzezinski, former Cold Warrior, National Security Adviser and hardly a pacifist has to say about the possibility of a nuclear armed Iran:

We managed to live with a nuclear Soviet Union in the days of Stalinism; we managed to live in a stable relationship with China, even though the leader of China, when China obtained the nuclear capability, publicly said, “Well, what’s nuclear war–300 million dead? is that a big deal?” The point is, we know historically that deterrence works and we know that we have the capability to deter Iran if it threatens not only us, but our neighbors. And I think we have enough reasonable calculus to conclude that the war, an additional war in the region, particularly that sensitive center of that region, will be very very risky for global stability.

That my friends should be the final answer on the question. Deterrence will work without the need for additional military action as it worked in the past. Former CIA officials are warning that Israel is pushing hard fro an attack against Iran, but I don’t believe the Obama administration will allow Israel and Netanyahu to take such a drastic step. Hell, even Israel’s military and Intelligence services don’t want war with Iran, and neither do the vast majority of Americans.

Unfortunately, with the extreme radical fringe of the Republican party ascendant and increasingly assuming control over who is nominated by the GOP and who may get elected this year, in 2012 and in years to come, we can’t assume that reason and clear headed thinking will prevail should Republicans ever regain power.

Lindsey Graham knows all this. He’s not a moron (though he plays one on TV). He is, however, a political coward, and his cowardice helps insures that the crazies will have free reign over his party should they win the midterm elections this Fall, and even more dangerously should their candidate defeat Obama in 2012. Let’s hope for the sake of all of us that doesn’t happen.

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