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“Fighting Words”: Why Mitt Romney Will Regret His Tough Talk On Iran

Every presidential election season, it seems, is marked by flights of rhetorical fancy on foreign policy. There was John F. Kennedy’s mythical “missile gap“; Jeane Kirkpatrick’s “Blame America Firsters charge against Democrats; Bill Clinton’s evocative (and quickly backtracked from) “butchers of Beijing” line; and then my personal favorite — George H.W. Bush saying his dog Millie “knows more about foreign affairs than these two bozos” (the two bozos in question being Bill Clinton and Al Gore).

This year, however, with the notable exception of anti-interventionist Ron Paul, Republicans are pulling out all the stops on the one foreign policy/national security issue that seems to unite them like no other: Iran and its nuclear program. Consider for a moment the spate of off-the-wall statements each of the GOP aspirants has made about Iran this campaign season.

According to Mitt Romney, “The greatest threat the world faces is a nuclear Iran.” There is, he claims, “no price that is worth an Iranian nuclear weapon,” and he has pledged that if he is president, Iran will “not have a nuclear weapon.”

Fighting words indeed. But they seem downright sober when compared to Rick Santorum — who has not only advocated air strikes to eliminate Tehran’s nuclear aspirations, but has also said Iran is “ruled by the equivalent of al Qaeda on top of this country”; “the principle virtue of the Islamic Republic of Iran is not freedom, opportunity — it’s martyrdom”; and that oldie-but-goodie: “they hate us because of who we are and what we believe in.”

Yet, when it comes to sky-is-falling rhetoric, Santorum takes a back seat to Newt Gingrich, who in a GOP debate this fall hinted the United States might not “survive” an Iranian nuke and in 2006 actually compared the Iranian leadership to Nazis. “This is 1935 and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is as close to Adolf Hitler as we’ve seen,” Gingrich told Human Events magazine. He said at the time that the top priority of the United States should be “overthrowing the government of Iran” with force, if necessary. It’s an argument he has doubled down on this year with calls for killing Iranian scientists and “breaking up their systems” — actions that would be veritable acts of war. He has said bombing Iran is a “fantasy” and the only real way to prevent an Iranian nuke is to depose the regime via conventional war, if necessary.

The latter view was even endorsed by Jon Huntsman, who, when asked if he would consider boots on the ground to stop Iran from getting a bomb, said he wouldn’t be able to “live with the implications of not doing it.” According to Huntsman, all “options [are] on the table.”

It should be noted that such proclamations are, well, a bit divorced from reality. Iran is at best a second-rate power, with an outdated and not terribly advanced conventional military force that is barely able to project power outside its borders. This week, Iranian fisherman even needed the U.S. Navy to rescue them from the clutches of Somali pirates. As Fareed Zakaria noted earlier this month, sanctions have pushed Iran’s economy “into a nose-dive.” Its currency has plunged in value, housing prices are up by 20 percent, the cost of food staples has jumped 40 percent, and the country’s “political system is fractured and fragmenting.” And if 2009’s Green Movement is any indication, there is widespread — if underground — political dissent in the country.

Regionally, Iran has rarely if ever been more isolated. Its one ally, Syria, has its hands full dealing with a domestic uprising, the Gulf states have joined together under a U.S. security umbrella, the Saudis are buying billions in new weaponry from Washington, and the European Union is inching ever closer to a ban on Iranian oil imports — a move that could have a devastating impact on the already battered Iranian economy. Compounding all that is the fact that Iranian scientists are continuing to get killed in the streets of Tehran, and the country’s missile-development program may have just blown itself up.

So why, then, are Republican candidates treating Iran like it’s the modern embodiment of Nazi Germany, al Qaeda, and the Soviet Union, all wrapped up in a mischievous and explosive ball?

The long answer is Americans don’t like Iran, they are afraid of nuclear weapons and images of mushroom clouds, and Muslims with weapons of mass destruction are scary. Frankly, GOP primary voters care about threats to Israel — and sanctions and diplomacy are less impressive than the promise that American airplanes will soon be dropping bombs on reinforced bunkers.

But the short answer is this is pretty much all the GOP has. Want to claim that Obama has been soft on terror? That whole killing Osama bin Laden thing makes that a bit tough. Same goes for all the al Qaeda lieutenants who have been killed in drone strikes. What about pulling out of Iraq? Good luck finding many Americans who disagree with that decision. How about Afghanistan and Obama’s call to begin pulling out troops in 2014? First, it’s hard to argue that Obama didn’t give war a chance in the Hindu Kush; second, Afghanistan is a less and less popular war every day. How about the claim that Obama has thrown Israel under the bus vis-à-vis the Palestinians? That’s not going to make all that much of a difference. It turns out the two groups of voters most concerned about Israel (American Jewsand evangelical Christians) likely already have a pretty clear sense whom they’ll be voting for in November.

On the matter of reducing the defense budget — a dicey proposition in an election year — by getting Republicans to agree to military spending cuts as part of the debt limit deal, Obama largely neutralized GOP attacks on the issue. And it’s not as if many Americans desperately wantto see military spending significantly increased in an age of political austerity.

In the end, since there is no good near-term solution for stopping Iran from getting a bomb –and since Iran continues to engage in provocative behavior like threatening for the umpteenth time to close the Straits of Hormuz — it is the one issue that Republicans can try to pin on the Democratic president, claiming he is weak on national security.

In the end, however, such accusations are unlikely to have much staying power. As Scott Clement points out, even Republicans prefer diplomacy over the use of military force. In fact, compare the Obama approach to Iran (diplomacy, a regional security architecture, likely covert action, and crippling economic sanctions) with the Republican approach (diplomacy, a regional security architecture, likely covert action, and crippling economic sanctions). There really isn’t much of a difference, except for the threatened use of force and all the doomsday talk. But it’s there that the GOP rhetoric could have severe consequences.

As Republicans rattle their sabers this winter, they risk locking themselves into a dangerous position on Iran, should one actually win in November. Just ask Obama how pledging to devote more resources to the fight in Afghanistan in 2008 played out for his presidency.

With Romney et al. declaring that Iran will not get a nuke while they are president and with pledges of support for unilateral action on the part of Israel — including the use of military force — to stop Tehran from getting a bomb, Republicans may find themselves stuck with a dangerous policy on Iran that smacks of brinksmanship. Moreover, all the tough talk on Iran will also limit Obama’s ability to open negotiations with Tehran over its nuclear program if the opportunity presents itself. Considering the increasingly desperate economic and political situation there, this might not necessarily be so far-fetched.

In the midst of a feisty presidential campaign, the Republicans’ muscular rhetoric might seem a surefire way to create a political opening. But the ramifications of these existential threats have the potential to live on far past Election Day.

 

By: Michael Cohen, Foreign Policy, January 6, 2012

January 11, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Shadow Knows: Darth Vader “Cheney” Vents

Why is it not a surprise to learn that Dick Cheney’s ancestor, Samuel Fletcher Cheney, was a Civil War soldier who marched with Sherman to the sea?

Scorched earth runs in the family.

Having lost the power to heedlessly bomb the world, Cheney has turned his attention to heedlessly bombing old colleagues.

Vice’s new memoir, “In My Time,” veers unpleasantly between spin, insisting he was always right, and score-settling, insisting that anyone who opposed him was wrong.

His knife-in-her-teeth daughter, Elizabeth Cheney, helped write the book. The second most famous Liz & Dick combo do such an excellent job of cherry-picking the facts, it makes the cherry-picking on the Iraq war intelligence seem picayune.

Cheney may no longer have a pulse, but his blood quickens at the thought of other countries he could have attacked. He salivates in his book about how Syria and Iran could have been punished.

Cheney says that in 2007, he told President Bush, who had already been pulled into diplomacy by Condi Rice: “I believed that an important first step would be to destroy the reactor in the Syrian desert.”

At a session with most of the National Security Council, he made his case for a strike on the reactor. It would enhance America’s tarnished credibility in the Arab world, he argued, (not bothering to mention who tarnished it), and demonstrate the country’s “seriousness.”

“After I finished,” he writes, “the president asked, ‘Does anyone here agree with the vice president?’ Not a single hand went up around the room.”

By that time, W. had belatedly realized that Cheney was a crank whose bad advice and disdainful rants against “the diplomatic path” and “multilateral action” had pretty much ruined his presidency.

There were few times before the bitter end that W. was willing to stand up to Vice. But the president did make a bold stand on not letting his little dog be gobbled up by Cheney’s big dog.

When Vice’s hundred-pound yellow Lab, Dave, went after W.’s beloved Scottish terrier, Barney, at Camp David’s Laurel Lodge, that was a bridge too far.

When Cheney and Dave got back to their cabin, there was a knock at the door. “It was the camp commander,” Cheney writes. “ ‘Mr. Vice President,’ he said, ‘your dog has been banned from Laurel.’ ”

But on all the nefarious things that damaged America, Cheney got his way for far too long.

Vice gleefully predicted that his memoir would have “heads exploding all over Washington.” But his book is a bore. He doesn’t even mention how in high school he used to hold the water buckets to douse the fiery batons of his girlfriend Lynne, champion twirler.

At least Rummy’s memoir showed some temperament. And George Tenet’s was the primal scream of a bootlicker caught out.

Cheney takes himself so seriously, flogging his cherished self-image as a rugged outdoorsman from Wyoming (even though he shot his Texas hunting partner in the face) and a vice president who was the only thing standing between America and its enemies.

He acts like he is America. But America didn’t like Dick Cheney.

It’s easier for someone who believes that he is America incarnate to permit himself to do things that hurt America — like torture, domestic spying, pushing America into endless wars, and flouting the Geneva Conventions.

Mostly, Cheney grumbles about having his power checked. It’s bad enough when the president does it, much less Congress and the courts.

A person who is always for the use of military force is as doctrinaire and irrelevant as a person who is always opposed to the use of military force.

Cheney shows contempt for Tenet, Colin Powell and Rice, whom he disparages in a sexist way for crying, and condescension for W. when he won’t be guided to the path of most destruction.

He’s churlish about President Obama, who took the hunt for Osama bin Laden off the back burner and actually did what W. promised to do with his little bullhorn — catch the real villain of 9/11.

“Tracking him down was certainly one of our top priorities,” Cheney writes. “I was gratified that after years of diligent and dedicated work, our nation’s intelligence community and our special operations forces were able on May 1, 2011, to find and kill bin Laden.”

Tacky.

Finishing the book with an account of the 2010 operation to put in a battery-operated pump that helps his heart push blood through his body, he recounts the prolonged, vivid dream about a beautiful place in Italy he had during the weeks he was unconscious.

“It was in the countryside, a little north of Rome, and it really seemed I was there,” he writes. “I can still describe the villa where I passed the time, the little stone paths I walked to get coffee or a batch of newspapers.”

Caesar and his cappuccino.

 

By: Maureen Dowd,  Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, August 27, 2011

August 28, 2011 Posted by | Conservatives, Constitution, Dick Cheney, Dictators, Foreign Governments, Foreign Policy, GOP, Government, Ideologues, Ideology, Iran, Iraq, Liberty, Politics, President Obama, Public, Republicans, Right Wing, Teaparty, Terrorism, United Nations | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Dick Cheney Of Israel: It’s What Netanyahu Is Doing To Israel Now

Three points about Obama’s recent speeches on the Arab world and the Middle East — the one at the State Department, and the one today at AIPAC. Jeffrey Goldberghas been responding to these in detail.

1) It’s complicated. We should no longer be surprised that a major Obama speech on an important topic is characterized mainly by its embrace of complexity.  Here’s why this matters:

Traditionally the role of a Presidential speech is to say, in bald terms, which side of an issue the Administration is coming down on. Are we going to war, or not? Is the president going to sign a bill, or veto it? People outside the government underestimate how important big presidential speeches are in resolving policy arguments and deciding what an administration’s approach will be.

Obama’s big speeches have been unusual, because the side they come down on is that of complexity. In his classic Philadelphia “race in America” speech: the recognition that every part of our racial mix has its insecurities and blind spots. In his Nobel prize address: that military force is not the answer but is an answer. In his West Point speech a year and a half ago: that the U.S. can’t stay in Afghanistan forever but should stay for a while. You can apply this analysis to almost every major address.

Including these latest speeches. He argued that the United States has “interests” in the Middle East — oil, stability, anti-terrorism — and it also has ideals. So it will try harder to advance its ideals, without pretending it has no (often contradictory) interests. He presented Israel-Palestine in this same perspective. As a meta-point, he said that Israel-Palestine is only part of the larger Arab-world evolution, but is a crucial part. On the merits, he emphasized that Israel has to be secure, that Hamas must accept that reality, that Israel must be able to defend itself — but that it cannot stand pat, wait too long to strike a deal, or forever occupy the West Bank.

My point here is about Obama rather than about the Middle East. From some politicians, for instance those otherwise dissimilar Georgians Jimmy Carter and Newt Gingrich, a collection of “complex” ideas often comes across as just a list. Obama, most of the time, has pulled off the trick of making his balance-of-contradictions seem a policy in itself. Rather than seeming just “contradictory” or “indecisive.” This is unusual enough that it’s worth noting. (And for another time: the vulnerabilities this approach creates.)

2) Israel’s Cheney. By “a Cheney” I refer to the vice presidential version of Dick Cheney, who (in my view) mistook short-term intransigence for long-term strategic wisdom, seemed blind and tone-deaf to the “moral” and “soft power” components of influence, profited from a polarized and fearful political climate, and attempted to command rather than earn support from allies and potential adversaries.

That was bad for the U.S. when Cheney was around. It’s what Netanyahu is doing to Israel now, and Israel has less margin for strategic error than America does.

Right after Obama made his big speech, it was welcomed in most of the world and by most major U.S. Jewish organizations. The immediate critics were Mitt “throw Israel under the bus” Romney, Sarah Palin, Tim Pawlenty, Mike Huckabee, and Binyamin Netanyahu. Explain to me the universe in which this is a wise strategic choice for a nation highly dependent on stable relations with the United States — and on ultimately making an agreement in the region that allows it to survive as a Jewish democratic state.

Think of this contrast: when China’s Hu Jintao came to Washington for a state visit, each of the countries had profound disagreements with the other. (Chinese leaders hate the U.S. policy of continued arms sales to Taiwan, much more so than Netanyahu could sanely disagree with any part of Obama’s speech.) Neither China nor America is remotely as dependent on the other as Israel is on the United States. Yet Obama and Hu were careful to be as respectful as possible, especially in public, while addressing the disagreements. High-handed and openly contemptuous behavior like Netanyahu’s would have seemed hostile and idiotic from either side. As it is from him.

The real service Netanyahu may have done is allowing easier U.S. discussion of the difference between Israel’s long-term interests and his own.

3) God bless this speech. President Obama showed that it is possible to end a speech with … a real ending! The usual one might have sounded odd in a speech largely addressed to the Islamic world. So the release text of his speech concluded in this admirable way:

“We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal.”

Those words must guide our response to the change that is transforming the Middle East and North Africa — words which tell us that repression will fail, that tyrants will fall, and that every man and woman is endowed with certain inalienable rights. It will not be easy. There is no straight line to progress, and hardship always accompanies a season of hope. But the United States of America was founded on the belief that people should govern themselves. Now, we cannot hesitate to stand squarely on the side of those who are reaching for their rights, knowing that their success will bring about a world that is more peaceful, more stable, and more just.

By: James Fallows, National Correspondent, The Atlantic, May 22, 2011

May 23, 2011 Posted by | Conservatives, Foreign Governments, Foreign Policy, Freedom, GOP, Government, Ideology, Middle East, National Security, Politics, President Obama, Republicans, Right Wing, Terrorism | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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