Dunsmore: An October Surprise in the Mideast?

Editor’s note: This op-ed by retired ABC News diplomatic correspondent Barrie Dunsmore first appeared in the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus and Rutland Herald Sunday edition. All his columns can be found on his website, http://www.barriedunsmore.com./

An “October Surprise” is a major news event calculated to affect the outcome of the November presidential election. Perhaps the first example was in October 1972, when then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who for years had been negotiating to end the Vietnam War, declared “peace is at hand.” It turned out that it wasn’t. But President Richard Nixon won a landslide victory over Democratic Sen. George McGovern, and probably would have done so anyway.

In 1980 there were rumors that President Jimmy Carter was going to get the American hostages out of Iran shortly before the election, but Carter himself eventually squelched that story. Then came another strong rumor that Ronald Reagan’s Republicans had secretly made a deal with Iran for the hostages to be held until after the election. In fact the hostages were not released until the very moment Reagan was inaugurated — but no smoking gun for such a deal was ever found. In any event, most historians now believe that the way Carter mishandled the more than year-long hostage crisis was an important factor in making him a one-term president.

So what about October 2012? Well, if there is an October Surprise this election year, it could be an Israeli attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Israel and the U.S. had been planning a massive military exercise in October, involving a record number of troops and U.S. warships in the region. However Time Magazine is now reporting that while these annual war games will take place, the Pentagon is scaling them way back. Evidently the Obama administration didn’t want the Iranians — or the Israelis for that matter — to misconstrue this exercise as a prelude to an Israeli-American attack on Iran.

And yet, if Israel were to attack Iran in October – especially considering Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s total, unquestioning support for Netanyahu — how could President Obama not come to the side of Israel when the Iranians inevitably struck back?

It is certainly no secret that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has little respect for President Barack Obama. And he continues to insist that force is the only way to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear power.

But Israel has neither the weapons nor the logistical support systems to successfully attack Iran on its own. For his part, President Obama believes more time must be given for tough international sanctions to take their toll – and for negotiations to play out. He is therefore resisting being dragged into another Middle East war — for the very persuasive reasons that such an unnecessary war would have huge human and economic costs for Americans – and would only delay, not end, Iran’s nuclear program.

And yet, if Israel were to attack Iran in October – especially considering Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s total, unquestioning support for Netanyahu — how could President Obama not come to the side of Israel when the Iranians inevitably struck back? America and Obama would be in a total no-win situation.

A number of serious analysts now fear that this October Surprise scenario could well take place. Among all the other major negatives, this would constitute an egregious overt effort by a foreign power to manipulate the American election results.

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