Niall Ferguson is an academic, a financial historian of some repute. But he's also a political agitator prone to wildly inaccurate polemics that couple his own right-wing vision for America with a very poor understanding of the worlds of defense and diplomacy.
His distant relationship with the facts when it comes to his political activism in print has been well covered elsewhere.
He starts out by saying that President Obama could really use some good news to sway undecided voters in his direction. Obama's once-commanding polling lead has indeed dwindled of late, and it seems clear that the race between Obama and Romney will be a tight one. So one point to Mr. Ferguson.
It all starts to come apart, though, when he suggests that "we might" just have one of two so-called "October surprises" from Obama in a cynical effort to win the election.
Invented Ferguson surprise no. 1: Obama will achieve a comprehensive nuclear settlement with Iran, solely to spite Mitt Romney.
Invented Ferguson surprise no. 2: Obama will tell Israel it's a good idea to start a war with Iran immediately and that the US will help.
Let me go on record as saying neither of these things that Mr. Ferguson says may happen will happen, between now and when the polls close on Nov. 6. Of course, Ferguson will later say that he couched his wild, and frankly silly, speculation in the language of "maybe."
But his closing two sentences make it clear where he's placing his bets, and his own loathing for Obama's character: "Never underestimate the ruthlessness of the Chicago machine that has been the key to Barack Obama’s rise," he writes. "With his fall suddenly a real possibility, the only thing that would really surprise me would be no October—or November—surprise."
Ferguson will be surprised then.
There simply is no comprehensive nuclear settlement with Iran on the table at the moment, and the thought that such a deal could be negotiated in the coming days is ludicrous. As for Obama going to war with Iran to win an election, which like all wars will be easy to start but harder to finish, as a cynical power grab? No.
For one thing, most Americans don't want another war after the ruinous Afghan and Iraq adventures of the past decade. If the electorate sniffed that Obama had fecklessly sent the nation to war for his own ambition (Ferguson detests Obama sufficiently that he appears to believe this is likely), they would likely punish him at the polls.
For another, the coils of a sanctions regime are slowly tightening. Obama wants to see if they'll work. Even the Israelis acknowledge that Iran has stepped back from its nuclear progress of late. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak just pushed back the oft-pushed-back Israeli "moment of truth" on Iran another eight months.
The way Ferguson deals with his "surprise no. 1," though, is illustrative of his world view and yet another reason why his opinions should be treated with, well, metric tons of salt. The fact is that an agreement from Iran to abandon its nuclear program, without a shot being fired, would be an unalloyed good thing from a US perspective, no matter who was in the White House. Yet Ferguson views his hypothetical only through the lens of what it might mean for Romney:
If the White House could announce a historic deal with Iran—lifting increasingly painful economic sanctions in return for an Iranian pledge to stop enriching uranium—Mitt Romney would vanish as if by magic from the front pages and TV news shows. The oxygen of publicity—those coveted minutes of airtime that campaigns don’t have to pay for—would be sucked out of his lungs.
You can take it to the bank that Ferguson's speculation will be proven wrong in the very near future. And almost as certain is my prediction that he'll be pushing forth similarly fanciful and inaccurate theories on the pages of The Daily Beast some time soon.