Which Candidate Will Start a War With Iran?

Barack Obama and Mitt Romney debate foreign policy tonight. Here is the only question that matters.

Tonight’s final presidential debate is all about foreign policy, and really, all you should be asking yourself as you watch the two candidates spar is this: Which one of these guys is more likely to get me killed?

If you believe that the Iranian government’s acquisition nuclear arms is the worst thing that could happen—if you believe that the mullahs are theological nihilists eager to use that power to set fire to the planet in order to bring out the fulfillment of an apocalyptic vision—well then, you probably will want to vote for Mitt Romney.

If, on the other hand, you believe that Iran’s leaders are actually rational creatures who want the power and security a nuclear bomb offers them—but are unlikely to use it precisely because they don’t want to be destroyed—and if you believe that attacking Iran in order to prevent it from acquiring such weapons could set off a wave of terrorism throughout the Middle East and possibly even in America itself, well, maybe you’d rather vote to re-elect President Obama.

Really, it’s that simple.

Either way: With this vote, you’re probably taking your life in your hands.

Oh, sure, there are other foreign policy questions that the next candidate will deal with—how to continue to manage the rise of China, for example, and how deeply embedded the United States should remain involved in European security—but the biggest question facing the man elected on Nov. 4 is this: How to deal with Iran? And how to deal with the consequences that would surely ensue from attacking Iran?

Now, a war might happen no matter who becomes president. Israel’s leaders have made it clear that they are increasingly eager to attack Iran in an attempt to shut down its nuclear program—and if the Israelis do, even without U.S. support, it’s inevitable that America would be targeted in the recriminations that follow. What’s more, both men have rejected the idea of “containing” a nuclear Iran.

But Romney is more likely to lead the United States to a pre-emptive war against Iran. (Like the one we had against Iraq. Remember how that one went?) His campaign has said that he wouldn’t allow that country to acquire nuclear weapons “capability”—which means, essentially, that Iran can’t be allowed to gather all the parts of a bomb. Which is a step sooner than President Obama’s formulation that Iran cannot be allowed to “acquire” a bomb. Romney’s statements mean we’d probably go to war soon; Obama’s language leaves some wiggle room.

Me? I’m betting that Iran’s nuclear program can be contained—pretty much exactly how the United States contained the Soviet Union during the Cold War. I’m betting that Iran’s leaders are more interested in worldly power than a supernatural apocalypse. I’m betting they want nukes, but not a nuclear war.

Which means that I believe Mitt Romney is the candidate who is more likely to get me killed.

If he takes us to war in Iran, that country—which has apparently attacked American troops in Iraq, attempted assassinations in America, and reportedly carried out bombings in Argentina—might decide to strike back with terrorist attacks against U.S. targets, and even on U.S. soil. Where we live.

Obama, meanwhile, has already been resisting the cries of “attack Iran” hawks for years. But remember, he also has repeatedly said all of his military operations are on the table. And certainly the United States has already been involved in a covert campaign to undermine Iran’s program. Such actions could already be inviting an Iranian response. So there are no guarantees.

An overt attack on Iran, though, could bring violence directly to American doorsteps. If you’re willing to endure that violence as the cost of keeping Iran nuke-free, then vote for Romney. If you’re hoping for a peaceful way out of the mess, then stick with the president—and cross your fingers. And let’s hope we can all make it through the next four years alive.