Samuel Goldman tries to untangle Romney’s statements on Iran, Israel, and South Africa:
According to Romney, Iran can’t be trusted with a nuclear weapon because of the fundamental injustice of its government. But Israel may have helped his paradigm of a pariah state acquire the same weapons.
Goldman is right that Romney’s simplistic framing of these issues leads him to take incoherent positions. If Romney believes that it was appropriate for the U.S. government to apply pressure on South Africa in the past, he is admitting that there are times when the U.S. should disagree and even clash publicly with friendly and allied governments. That suggests that he thinks it may sometimes be desirable for the U.S. to differ publicly with a friendly government over the latter’s policies and behavior, and he can even imagine a scenario in which it is acceptable to treat that state as a “pariah.” Needless to say, this contradicts absolutely everything Romney has ever said about how the U.S. should manage relationships with allies and clients.
I suspect Romney cited the South Africa example because it is one of the few examples that anyone can cite that supports the view that international sanctions have some success in changing regime behavior. Because Romney favors even stricter sanctions than those already in place, he wants to create the impression that they are effective in producing changes in the sanctioned regime’s behavior. According to Romney, sanctions haven’t had the desired effect in Iran, but this doesn’t stop him from recommending an intensification of the policy that keeps failing.
The double standard on proliferation is an old one, and Romney is hardly the only one to hold Iran and other “rogue” regimes to a different standard than he holds friendly and allied nuclear-weapons states. That double standard is at the heart of Iran policy supported by both parties and by this administration. States that are considered to be on “our” side, however loosely one defines that, will not face the same criticism or opposition if they develop nuclear weapons or engage in proliferation. States that are not considered to be on “our” side are held to a much more exacting standard, and the Non-Proliferation Treaty might as well not exist as far as their nuclear programs are concerned. Romney’s position that an Iranian nuclear capability is simply a more hard-line expression of this more broadly shared assumption.
As for the old chestnut of indicting Ahmadinejad, there isn’t too much to say. Romney has been saying something like this for more than five years, and it makes no more sense today than it did when he first uttered it in 2007. Of course, it is an attempt to personalize Iran policy and make Ahmadinejad into the central villain of the piece, which repeats some common mistakes that many Iran hawks have made over the years. Focusing on Ahmadinejad in this way wrongly identifies him as the most important figure in the regime (which he has never been), it ignores that he has been steadily losing influence over the last three years, and it overlooks the small matter that he will not be Iran’s president when his second term runs out next year. Demagoguery about Ahmadinejad might have seemed somewhat clever to a Republican presidential candidate in 2007, but now it is just pointless and dated. Trying to have him indicted under the Genocide Convention would mostly make a mockery of the convention and meanwhile it would achieve absolutely nothing in terms of resolving the nuclear issue. It should give us pause that Romney thought this useless talking point should be an important part of his proposed Iran policy.