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July 31, 2012

Now That Team Romney Has Cleared Up Their Iran Position... [UPDATED]
Posted by David Shorr

In case we didn't already know how hard it is to come up with an alternative Iran policy better than what President Obama is already doing, the Romney camp's bumbling attempts merely drive home the point. For that matter, just in case the atrociousness of their foreign policy approach weren't staring us in the face, now we see how truly awful it is.

Here is all you need to know about foreign policy according to Team Romney: there's no such thing as being too belicose, and giving a **** what other countries think is for wimps. I mean, how else can you explain being so loose and cavalier in talking about the resort to force against Iran's nuclear program? The Romneyites often talk about the Obama Administration's supposed failure to make a credible threat of force. As with many elements of their critique, they haven't really offered a practical alternative that they would consider a more credible threat. From what we heard from Romney's visit to Israel, apparently they mean giving the green light for an Israeli attack.

As if to predict the mess Governor Romney stepped in, it so happens that top Obama campaign surrogate and former senior Pentagon official Michele Flournoy gave her own talk in Israel a couple months ago (read about it over at Think Progress). Here are a couple of snippets:

“Having sat in the Pentagon, I can assure you of the quality of the work that has been done. [...] The military option for the president is real,” said Flournoy. “Barack Obama is a president that says what he means and does what he says. [...] I can assure you we do not have a policy of containment."

and

If Israel would launch an attack prematurely, it would undermine the ability of the international community to come together in the critical long-term campaign. It would ultimately hurt our goal of preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

Given the flappe provoked by Romney's comments, that's pretty prescient isn't it. Michele also said similar things at a more recent Brookings event with top Romney surrogate Ambassador Richard Williamson.

And now I turn to Rich Williamson to round out this picture with his statements just today on CNN (my thanks again to Think Progress). I'll let him go first:

SOLEDAD O’BRIEN: So, are you telling me that Governor Romney would be willing to bomb Iran if it looks like they’re getting nuclear weapons? That they would whether it’s with or without Israel, bomb Iran to end that — they cross the red line, bomb Iran?

RICHARD WILLIAMSON: I’m saying two things. First, on the sanctions, it’s not just talking abstractly about sanctions. This administration has allowed Moscow and Beijing to determine what sanctions we can put in force. Governor Romney has made clear he’s going to put tough sanctions in force for the coalition and not play “Mother, may I” with the U.N. Security Council.

Second, that Tehran should know that Governor Romney is committed to work everything possible diplomatically to avoid having to use force. But if it gets to nuclear breakout, military options are on the table and have to be seriously considered.

Rich really likes that "Mother, may I" line; we've heard it before and we're likely to hear it again. In that rest-of-the-world-be-damned spirit I highlighted above, it lets him say the Obama administration is too solicitous of others. It's also utter nonsense. So he wants to argue that the United States doesn't need China for sanctions on Iranian petrolium exports, despite the fact that CHINA IS A MAJOR CUSTOMER FOR IRANIAN OIL. I did a more wonkish post on this subject last month, pointing out that so-called unilateral sanctions aren't nearly as unilateral as you might think. But why let that get in the way of a cute, tough sounding throwaway line. 

[By the way, there's little disagreement about the possible need to use force in the event of diplomatic failure and Iranian near-breakout capability. Which leaves the rather significant questions of seeking diplomatic success and defining breakout capability.]

UPDATE: When I read this New York Times story on newly enacted sanctions on Iran, I noticed that it quotes Romney campaign spokesman Ryan Williams citing Netanyahu on the futility of the negotiating efforts.

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