Both Americans and Israelis believe – we know deep in our bones – that if the Islamic Republic of Iran acquires a nuclear weapons capability, it will be an existential threat to Israel, to America, and to world civilization itself [bold mine-DL].
Even though it’s not true, referring to a nuclear-armed Iran as an “existential threat” to Israel is pretty much required for Republicans speaking at an event like this. It’s the sort of thing everyone is expected to say, because that is what everyone thinks the audience wants to hear. That can make it difficult for politicians to distinguish themselves from the crowd. What does a politician near the start of his national political career say to show that he is the most egregious panderer of them all? It’s a challenge. Christie wasn’t going to settle for Rubio’s limited “existential threat to the entire region” rhetoric. He had to show that he is an extremely “serious” person, so how better to do that than to exaggerate the Iranian threat as much as he possibly could?
Suppose that Iran builds a few nuclear weapons. That’s not ideal, and U.S. policies shouldn’t give Iran added incentives to acquire them, but if it happens Iran won’t be an existential threat to the U.S. or Israel. Even if the Iranian government were willing to bring about their own annihilation (which they aren’t), a nuclear-armed Iran does not threaten the existence of the United States, much less that of “world civilization.” Every other nuclear-weapons state except for North Korea has dozens, hundreds, or, in the case of the U.S. and Russia, thousands of nuclear weapons. If there is a threat to “world civilization” from nuclear weapons, it comes from the massive arsenals that already exist and not from the Iranian one that doesn’t exist.
Christie said something else that is absurdly exaggerated:
A threat to the Israeli way of life is a threat to the American way of life. Not only for here in America, but for all the nations that emulate our democracy or are trying to emulate our democracy around the world.
Shouldn’t it be possible to express support for Israel without so much rhetorical excess? Christie’s remark betrays the sort of delusional conflation of Israeli and American interests that is unfortunately all too common among leading Republican politicians. Christie goes beyond the usual conflation to say that all democracies everywhere are also threatened, which is simply nonsense. A threat to the “Israeli way of life” is a threat to just that and nothing more. Exaggerating threats so wildly destroys the credibility of everything else Christie has to say.
If the Iran debate weren’t so horribly biased in favor of exaggerating the threat from Iran and unnecessary confrontational policies, Christie’s comments would make him as much of a foreign policy laughingstock as Sarah Palin or Herman Cain. Instead, Christie’s willingness to say obviously absurd things to prove his hawkish bona fides on Iran will only help him advance in national politics. Those hoping to find an advocate for foreign policy restraint in Chris Christie will have to look elsewhere.