Romney’s Foreign-Policy Chops
Here’s what Mitt Romney said the other day while speaking in Jerusalem:
“We have a solemn duty and a moral imperative to deny Iran’s leaders the means to follow through on their malevolent intentions. We must not delude ourselves into thinking that containment is an option.”
According to most analyses Romney took a rather aggressive stand supporting preemptive strikes and doing more than the diplomatic dance of the United States. Romney’s performance in Israel is a pretty good test of his foreign-policy chops and his diplomatic skills. He didn’t fail the test but his grade is fairly low. He embarrassed the English during their Olympic moment on the world stage, his characterization of the Palestinians as being culturally behind, and that’s why their gross national product is not as high as Israel’s, is pretty naïve and may even contain a tinge of racism. But he was not completely wrong about Iran and difficulties we face.
The Republic of Iran wants to be a nuclear power. They want a seat at the table with the grown-ups who have the biggest weapon and the most threat. The question of whether or not they deserve a seat at the table remains to be seen. I think you have to prove yourself. Just like you do not get to handle that big machine we call an automobile until you pass the test, you don’t get the responsibility of having nuclear weapons until you demonstrate you can handle the responsibility. Declaring that Allah is guiding your missiles and that some cultures need annihilation does not exactly represent the sort of maturity the world is looking for. But Iran does not seem to care much because they are defying international pressure and seemed to be unconcerned with any diplomatic efforts.
Iran turning its nose up at UN Security Council resolutions directing them to suspend enrichment, and refusing to explain fully their nuclear intentions do not add up to an acceptable definition of “maturity.” It is simply dangerous for Iran to enter the inner sanctum of the nuclear club: there are plenty of reasons for this danger not the least of which is the addition of more nuclear weapons capable of detonation, but the extent to which it would embolden the Iranians is one of the most dangerous. They already support terror in various places in the world and membership in the nuclear club would probably just encourage them to continue their terrorist ways against the United States and Israel. Even if there were some semblance of checks on their nuclear arsenal this sort of provocative activity could spur a conventional war. There is no doubt that tensions in the Middle East would escalate. Israel has a nervous finger on the trigger of nuclear weapons and the foreign-policy rooted in existential threat. Israel responds sharply to existential threat and the nuclear Iran would certainly qualify.
The geopolitical balance of power would be altered and the pickings would be ripe for additional nuclear proliferation. Allowing Iran to acquire nuclear weapons would undermine efforts to control weapons and how they are used. It would also be a defeat for the United States who has led the efforts to stop Iran and essentially organized the boycott. If the United States is perceived as failing to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons than the question of US power and influence will be unanswered.
There remains diplomacy to play out. Simply attacking Iran would be very provocative and causes many problems as it might solve. Some diplomatic process is the only alternative at this point. But the hell of it is that nothing much can be done during the political campaign because there are significant differences between the Democrats and the Republicans on this matter. The argument that Obama is weak on Iran does not hold much water. Obama is not weak on Iran, he is smart on Iran. It is simply reckless and dangerous to sound like a gunslinger on this issue. Obama is capable of convincing people that he is a tough guy – note the Osama bin Laden takedown – and I think he can be equally tough on Iran.
Even if we give Mitt Romney the benefit of the doubt he has plenty to learn. He was clumsy and somewhat ill-informed on this trip to Europe and the Middle East. His foreign-policy credentials are of course thin and we cannot wait too long for him to fatten them up.