Rutland Herald and Montpelier (Barre) Times Argus,

Sunday July 8th, 2012

By Barrie Dunsmore 

We are now entering what is often the silly season of an American presidential election campaign. We now know for certain who the presidential candidates will be - yet we’re nearly two months away from the nominating conventions. (The Republicans are convening in Tampa, Florida beginning the week of August 27th. The Democrats will gather in Charlotte, North Carolina the week of September 3rd.) 

Of course the campaign doesn’t stop for a two month summer break. And the bombardment of broadcast campaign ads will continue. But it’s generally accepted that most Americans will not be hanging on every word the candidates speak in this period. That focus usually begins with the conventions and becomes more intense during the final two months until Election Day, Tuesday November 6th. So some subtle changes occur during the summer months.  

The candidates themselves try to take a little down time and key campaign staffers take short breaks to freshen up for the final fall sprint. So too do some of the big names in the national news media, along with senior editors. Inevitably, with the second string at work, some mistakes are made. And while the replacement boys and girls on the campaign bus are simply trying to prove themselves professionally, in the dearth of real news, so called “controversies” very often get magnified. These pseudo stories are easily identified and rarely last more than one news cycle - although candidates on vacation must guard against the silly photo that can have lasting negative impact. (Think John Kerry windsurfing in his skintight wetsuit.) 

However this doesn’t mean nothing important is going to happen in the presidential race during the dog days of summer. As someone who watches the campaign with more than casual interest, I have my list of “game changing” events which might well determine the outcome of the election- or at very least, be big enough to upset much of the conventional wisdom. One of the items on my list has already occurred, namely, the Supreme Court decision that the Affordable Care Act was indeed constitutional.  

I believed that if the Court found even a portion of President Barack Obama’s most significant legislative accomplishment to be in violation of the Constitution, that would tip the scales in favor of Governor Mitt Romney. I could picture the  Republicans and their multi-million dollar Super Pacs (financed by ultra-conservative billionaires thanks to the Citizens United Supreme Court decision) deluging the airwaves with ads mocking Obama – the professor of constitutional law - for trying to foist an unconstitutional program upon the American people. It remains to be seen how important Health Care will be as a campaign issue. But in my view, Chief Justice John Roberts’ unexpected yes vote very likely saved Obama from defeat in November. 

My second potential game changer is the collapse of the European economic union which uses the Euro as its common currency. Because the European Union is America’s largest trading partner, and because major U.S. banks are holding big chunks of European debt, the break-up of the Euro- zone would have major impact here. If it were to happen before the presidential election, that would be bad news for the president. In reality, the power of the American presidency over European economic policy is slim to none. But the Republicans would be eager to add a new global recession to the top of the list of failures of Obama’s management of the economy - and that would certainly strengthen Romney’s hand. 

But my most important potential game changer between now and November is an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. And this has become more likely because the diplomatic effort to get Iran to curb its nuclear ambitions has faltered. The series of talks between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany have stalled over Iran’s claim of the legal right to reprocess its uranium to a level of 20 percent which is a relatively short step from nuclear weapons grade. And in spite of sanctions on its oil industry which a few days ago Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called the most onerous in history, he insisted they would not affect Iran’s nuclear plans.  

Iran earns 80 percent of its national budget though oil experts. And so far this year due to sanctions, exports have fallen 40 percent, costing Iranians billions of dollars each month. But Iran remains defiant. It has again threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz which is the choke point in the Persian Gulf through which much of the world’s oil supply must pass. This past week Iran also held a three day military exercise that included test-firing missiles capable of hitting targets in Israel and American bases in the Middle East. The Revolutionary Guard Corps commander of the exercise said he has contingency plans to hit 35 American bases within minutes of any attack against his country.

 If the Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should decide that all this means both diplomacy and sanctions have failed to halt Iran’s nuclear program, an Israeli strike against Iran could well take place before the American presidential election. President Obama and nearly all former Israeli national security experts have argued against such a preemptive attack - because it would be a relatively minor setback to Iran’s nuclear program while it could ignite the entire Middle East in a major war. However Governor Romney and his neo-conservative advisers apparently have no reservations about such a war, and have criticized Obama for even negotiating with Iran.

 In fact, if the Israelis do attack Iran it will be assumed by all in the region, and certainly by the Iranians, that the United States was involved. Like it or not, Obama and America will be dragged in. So in terms of the presidential election, war with Iran might or might not be a game changer. But as for America’s vital national security and economic interests, such a war will be a disaster.


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