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Cantor’s Horrible VMI Speech

The Republican House majority leader, Rep. Eric Cantor, recently delivered a speech on foreign policy at the Virginia Military Institute. There is very little of interest in the speech, since it is not much more than a summary of the usual hawkish arguments that so many Republican politicians repeat ad nauseam. Robert Golan-Vilella noted that the speech was just a lot of tedious boilerplate. There are a few comments that Cantor made that deserve some attention, because they demonstrate how wrongheaded this worldview truly is. When it comes to inflating threats, Cantor is second to none in grossly exaggerating the dangers of Iran’s nuclear program. He said:

I can imagine few more destabilizing moments in world history than Iran on the threshold of being a nuclear power.

I suppose this is intended to alert the audience to the great danger that Iran poses, but it mostly just succeeds in confirming how absurd and unreasonable so many Iran hawks are. History is littered with countless threats far more destabilizing and dangerous than Iran’s possession of nuclear capability. Cantor isn’t just guilty of hyperbole here. He is engaged in the most desperate and heavy-handed fear-mongering possible, and he is making claims so far-fetched that it ought to shred whatever credibility he has on these issues. Cantor continues:

If given the opportunity, Iran’s leaders would make good on their call to wipe Israel off the map, and armed with nuclear weapons would be a threat to all within range of their missiles, which someday soon may include our own shores.

Even if Iran possessed nuclear weapons and had the ability to deliver them, there is no reason to believe that any of this would ever happen. For starters, Iran would be deterred by the vastly superior nuclear arsenals of the U.S. and Israel, to say nothing of the conventional military superiority of both. It may be undesirable for Iran to possess nuclear weapons, but it is ridiculous to fear that a nuclear-armed Iran would ever launch a first strike on either the U.S. or Israel when this would result in their obliteration.

Cantor’s discussion of diplomacy with Iran seems willfully obtuse. He said:

Like all Americans, I hope to see Iran abandon its nuclear aspirations through peaceful negotiations, but hope is not a strategy. Among other shortcomings, the current interim agreement between the United States and Iran explicitly allows Iran to continue enriching uranium and improving its centrifuge designs, despite the U.N. Security Council Resolutions that call for Iran to suspend exactly these activities.

Of course, this is not a “shortcoming” of the deal, but a necessary compromise that makes a peaceful resolution possible. Cantor’s maximalist position that Iran must renounce all enrichment is one that would make it impossible to reach a negotiated settlement if the U.S. insisted on it. Like so many other Iran hawks, Cantor pretends to want a diplomatic solution but rejects the minimal compromises requires to make it happen. His idea of an “America that leads” is one that would simply lead to new and unnecessary wars.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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