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Romney vs. Iran

On the subject of a President Romney’s likely foreign policy, particularly towards Iran, I think David Frum deserves a more nuanced response than Andrew Sullivan provided. (For those following at home: Frum [1], Sullivan [2], Frum [3], Frum [4], Sullivan [5].)

Frum’s argument in a nutshell is: Romney cares more about his domestic agenda than his foreign policy agenda; so does the GOP as a whole; an aggressive foreign policy agenda would torpedo his domestic agenda; therefore he won’t be nearly as aggressive as Sullivan fears. Specifically, he won’t attack Iran – whereas Obama might well have to.

Sullivan’s response is, basically: look who’s funding him, look what he’s running on, and look who he’s hired to advise him on foreign policy. And then look at his fundamental character. Romney may be inherently cautious – but he’s got to be cautious about not drawing fire from his right as well, and the contemporary American right is nationalist and aggressive. He’s in a weak position to resist the war drums, and shows no sign of wanting to resist them.

So there are two axes of disagreement between Sullivan and Frum: what Romney really believes, and what the movers and shakers within the GOP really want. Neither of these debates is entirely resolvable. Personally, I’m inclined to agree with Frum on his read of Romney’s character (an attack on Iran would be a big gamble, and he’s a smart investor, not a gambler – unlike Bush and especially McCain) and with Sullivan on his read of the contemporary GOP (regardless of what the rank-and-file actually wants, I think there would be reflexive support for any aggressive move a President Romney would make, and there’s distinct faction in the leadership that strongly favors military action against Iran specifically, a faction which includes many of Romney’s advisors and people rumored for top positions in a Romney Administration).

But the question isn’t entirely binary. That is to say, there are aggressive policy options that Romney might have that wouldn’t involve a full-scale invasion of Iran. For example:

Mitt Romney is running on a platform of full-spectrum aggression. He may very well not deliver on the promise of that platform – he may limit himself to rhetorical belligerence backed up by no actual force. That might satisfy both his party and his own native caution. But why would we want to elect a man we think will shout loudly and carry a small stick?

What Romney would not have room to do as President is change course. He has done absolutely nothing to prepare the ground for retrenchment, and he has made it clear that he has contempt for diplomacy.

The more interesting question I have for Frum: it sounds to me like he’s making a case against war with Iran. Is he? If war with Iran is as costly and unlikely to succeed as he outlines, shouldn’t we be thinking about other ways to deal with the Iranian nuclear program than threatening a war we oughtn’t to want to wage? And if that’s the case, wouldn’t David Frum be enormously valuable as a convert to the cause of such alternative approaches, given his famous history?

Relatedly, I’d be very interested to hear how he thinks Netanyahu would respond to an offer by a President Romney to take care of the Iranian problem himself. Frum argues that Israel is not the main advocate of military action against Iran – that Saudi Arabia is far more invested. Netanyahu has indeed been extremely loud about the Iranian threat, and has repeatedly threatened action. But he could well be bluffing. Netanyahu, after all, is one of the rare Israeli Prime Ministers who has not fought a war during his term. And if he were truly concerned about the Iranian threat above all, and didn’t believe Israel had the technical capacity to eliminate that threat itself, you’d expect to have seen a very different Netanyahu in the first two years of Obama’s Presidency – a Netanyahu willing to bend on settlements in order to win an American commitment to action on Iran. But you saw nothing of the sort. Netanyahu behaved as if diplomatic concessions to the Palestinians were more threatening to Israel than the Iranian nuclear program. So maybe he’s bluffing?

Is that what Frum thinks? Does he think that, if Romney declines to attack Iran, Israel will also do nothing? If not, then what happens to his case that Romney would be less-likely to spark a war with Iran? And if he does think that Netanyahu is bluffing, what does that say about the objective case for our belligerent posture towards Iran?

9 Comments (Open | Close)

9 Comments To "Romney vs. Iran"

#1 Comment By Charlieford On September 2, 2012 @ 8:43 pm

Frum indulges in some very wishful thinking. It assumes a level of sobriety and independence and truth-telling and learn-from-Iraqiness on the part of those doing the briefing that we have no reason to believe will be there.

He also ignores Romney’s vulnerability: His foreign policy inexperience and his need to establish some credibility. If, come say June 2013 we get word the Iranians will imminently have a bomb, he knows and his advisers know the world will be watching and his party will be watching.

So the briefing Romney will get will more likely be, “Mr. President, without your action as Commander-in-Chief, by this time next month, the Iranians will have a bomb. You promised in no uncertain terms that if you were elected, they would not get a bomb. If you let this happen, your right flank in the party will turn against you. The Israelis will say you betrayed them. Every world ruler hostile to US interests from Chavez to Putin will peg you as weak. Come the mid-terms, we’ll get clobbered. And if the Iranians start swaggering, you risk not being re-elected. On the other hand, our contacts among the Green Movement indicate that they’re ready to fill the vacuum if we take out the regime. And the Air Force assures us they can do this. No boots on the ground will be necessary. You’ll have transformed America’s longest standing adversary in the region from foe to friend, and revenged the hostage crisis of 1979. In their place will be a democratic country and an ally to the US and Israel. You’ll be re-elected in a landslide. And those air strikes? They’ll make for some fantastic video in ’16.”

#2 Comment By Noah172 On September 2, 2012 @ 10:12 pm

In 2000, candidate Bush promised us a more restrained foreign policy; he even bothered to criticize specific Clinton overseas adventures by name. Earlier in the year, during the Republican primaries, most neocon pundits (e.g. Kristol) supported McCain, who was a known quantity as an aggressive interventionist and lover of Zion, against the blank slate son of a deposed realist President. Once the election was settled, Bush then picked some alleged “realists” for high positions in his national security team: Powell, Rice, Armitage. The stage was set for dovishness, no?

Yet, OTOH, his pre-election foreign policy advisors, and later his senior national security staff, were thick with hawks and neocons: Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Perle, Feith, you know the gang. Bush was inexperienced in, and pretty much wholly ignorant of, foreign affairs, thus relying far too heavily on axe-grinding advisors who took advantage of the gullible prince. Many of the same big money Zionist donors who are funding Romney now funded Bush then. Bush expressed his religiously-motivated support for Zionism (IOW, kowtowing to Israel was not merely a professional burden to him, as with other Presidents, but a duty imposed from On High).

As it turned out, invasion and regime change in Iraq was discussed from the first meeting of the National Security Council once Bush was in office, and repeatedly thereafter, while the Twin Towers still stood. Marching on Baghdad was a long-standing neocon project (PNAC, Iraq Liberation Act, etc.), and 9/11 was seized upon, opportunistically, as just the right pretext to bring the country around.

I rehearse this history because it is relevant to this situation now with Romney. I do not think that Romney is as gullible, or quite as painfully dependent on advisors to think for him, as Bush proved to be; nor, of course, is Romney even bothering to promise a more restrained foreign policy (he wants to get tough on Iran, Syria, Russia, China….). Otherwise, I think that the other factors I mention above apply to Romney.

Frum writes:

The Iran confrontation is not driven by Sheldon Adelson, or by Israel, or by some Israel Lobby. United States has never waged war to defend Israel. Not ever

This is true only if one rejects categorically the idea that neoconservative desire to protect Israel from Saddam Hussein was a factor (not the only factor) in the decision to invade Iraq. Such a rejection is, to say the least, a matter of contentious debate. Furthermore, that Israel, in concert with its enthusiasts in the US, does not exert enormous influence on US foreign policy (as Frum implies) is simply preposterous.

Frum’s argument is weak: don’t believe what Romney says, or what the people around him say — it just can’t happen, so why worry? Some sales pitch!

if he were truly concerned about the Iranian threat above all, and didn’t believe Israel had the technical capacity to eliminate that threat itself, you’d expect to have seen a very different Netanyahu in the first two years of Obama’s Presidency

Unless Netanyahu, and other prominent Israelis, are so arrogant as to think that they can get whatever they want out of the stupid Americans, quivering in fear over getting labeled antisemitic, or being put on AIPAC’s electoral target list. Remember, Netanyahu has been publicly pushing for years for the release of Jonathan Pollard, even attempting, with President Clinton, to make said release a condition of making a peace deal with Arafat; how chutzpadik is that?

#3 Comment By Barry On September 3, 2012 @ 8:36 am

Noah: “Personally, I’m inclined to agree with Frum on his read of Romney’s character (an attack on Iran would be a big gamble, and he’s a smart investor, not a gambler – unlike Bush and especially McCain) ”

Romney’s entire careers has been one of (to the extent humanly possible) making other people take his risks his debts, while Romney et al. ended up with the money.

A war with Iran would fit that nicely – remember, war is good for a US president. And the last decade demonstrated that a war is good for trillions of $$ of looting.

#4 Comment By obijuan On September 3, 2012 @ 9:30 am

If Israel initiates a conflict, I fail to see how Romney can avoid getting us involved. Israel is supposedly our greatest ally and on whose existence Western civilization rises and falls.

#5 Comment By reflectionephemeral On September 3, 2012 @ 9:46 am

 So maybe he’s bluffing?

That would be lovely indeed, but it seems to me Netanyahu is a product of US-style right-wing thinking akin to that of Pres. Bush Jr.: if it feels good, do it. Iran is bad, confronting Iran feels good, so, let’s confront Iran. Hopefully I am badly misreading the situation. But what other than emotional immaturity explains Netanyahu’s efforts to convey distaste for the president of his patron, the US, when Pres. Obama has the same views, and the same minimal follow through, as his predecessors on matters such as the settlements?

#6 Comment By off switch On September 3, 2012 @ 2:51 pm

“And if that’s the case, wouldn’t David Frum be enormously valuable as a convert to the cause of such alternative approaches, given his famous history?”

No. Frum has no credibility. People like Frum should be shunned, not welcomed as converts. We’ve had enough of being treated like amnesiacs by people who have been repeatedly, disastrously wrong but manage to keep their jobs and “reinvent” themselves. It is a chief cause of the contemporary decay of authority and loss of public trust in institutions.

#7 Comment By Israel as a Cash Cow On September 4, 2012 @ 8:01 am

We dont need to win a war in Iran, indeed losing slowly is better. If we can get 10 more years of homeland security , anti-terrorism, and occupation bombing expenditures out of the American taxpayer, then who cares what happens after those ten years. Our friends in Israel and in the “american” military industrial complex will be richer than theyve ever dreamed, and our friends in the Gulf States will enjoy another ten years of artificially high oil prices. We cant imagine a better scenario for our equity investors going forward.

The only thing we need now is an apparent Iranian error, they dont have to make the error, but the American people need to believe they made it, an aircraft carrier sunk by a rogue iranian navy missile boat would be perfect. Yup, another Gulf of Tonkin.

somebody call the saudis, see if they can get their people with MEK or Mossad to arrange something, right away.

roger that sir!

Gotta love israel the cash cow, the gift that keeps on giving.

#8 Comment By Uncle Vanya On September 4, 2012 @ 8:55 am

Can we afford to have Romney as president and risk finding out? Most definitely not. I don’t like Obama, but when Shelly Adelson, the man who wants to buy a war between the United States and Israel, became Romney’s sugar daddy, Romney lost my vote.

I prefer the worst case scenario the democrats offer under Obama, the country going socialist, than voting for Romney to keep America capitalist and, at best, only bringing America to its economic knees with a war in the Middle East.

@Obijuan, You wrote: “Israel is supposedly our greatest ally and on whose existence Western civilization rises and falls.”

To correct the record, Israel is NOT an ally. There is no treaty of alliance between the United States and Israel. There can be no treaty of alliance between the United States and another country that has not first defined its territorial boundaries, something Israel refuses to do.

#9 Comment By Uncle Vanya On September 4, 2012 @ 9:02 am

Erratum and correction:

I wrote: Most definitely not. I don’t like Obama, but when Shelly Adelson, the man who wants to buy a war between the United States and Israel, became Romney’s sugar daddy, Romney lost my vote.

What I meant to say was: “Most definitely not. I don’t like Obama, but when Shelly Adelson, the man who wants to buy a war between the United States and Iran for Israel, became Romney’s sugar daddy, Romney lost my vote.”