One of the recurring themes in the Republican debate last night was the candidates’ (and some of the moderators’) fear and loathing of Iran and its allies. That isn’t surprising for a field of Republican, mostly hawkish candidates, but it was nonetheless remarkable that almost all of the candidates grossly exaggerated Iranian power and worried about how to inflict damage on Iran and its allies to the exclusion of any other considerations. There was no attempt to weigh costs and benefits, nor was there any doubt that hostility to Iran should be a top priority for our foreign policy.
Kasich insisted on removing Assad simply because “it would be a blow to Iran and Russia,” as if that were reason enough to inflict additional suffering and death on people in Syria. Christie railed against the nuclear deal, which he asserted would allow Iran to “extend their empire” in the region, which conveniently ignores that they don’t have an empire. Lost in one of the cacophonous exchanges was Cruz’s statement that “a regime we should change is Iran because Iran has declared war on us. In case anyone was worried that Cruz would never support regime change somewhere, he was eager to boast about his desire to destabilize one of the largest relatively peaceful and stable countries in the region. Cruz also said that the U.S. needed a president that says that “the greatest national security threat facing America is a nuclear Iran,” which is exactly what we don’t need. Even if Iran had nuclear weapons, it wouldn’t be the greatest threat to the U.S., and Iran doesn’t and won’t have these weapons thanks in large part to the deal that Cruz vows to tear to shreds. If Cruz was sometimes making sense on other issues last night, when it came to Iran he was as deranged and aggressive as the others.
Even the hawkish talk radio host/moderator Hugh Hewitt got in on the action by asserting that the “Iranians are winning in Yemen, they’re winning everywhere.” Never mind that the Iranians are scarcely involved in Yemen and that no one can be said to be “winning” there except perhaps for the local Al Qaeda and ISIS affiliates. What mattered to Hewitt was to create the illusion of an Iran that is “on the march” in the region. It’s not true, and in fact something much closer to the complete opposite of that is what’s happening right now, but that has never stopped Iran hawks from making things up to suit their preference for a more aggressive policy towards Iran. Despite the sometimes sharp disagreements on other issues, the only disagreement on Iran was over how best to hurt them and roll back their supposedly growing influence in the region.