Mitt Romney embraces the neocons


The top three vote-getters in the Iowa caucuses — Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tx.) — responded to success in very different ways.

Santorum, best known for his antediluvian views on gay rights and choice, emphasized the economy and job creation. Paul, keeping with the themes he has focused on his entire career, talked about personal freedom, the need to restrict “big government,” and preventing a new war in the Middle East.

And Romney, who is at this point the frontrunner for the nomination, started his speech by discussing the purported failure of Barack Obama to confront Iran.

With the economy still in the doldrums, Romney sees Iran as the most serious problem facing Americans.

ROMNEY: We face an extraordinary challenge in America, and you know that. And that is internationally, Iran is about to have nuclear weaponry, just down the road here. And this president, what’s he done in that regard? He said we would have a policy of engagement. How’s that worked out? Not terribly well. We have no sanctions of a severe nature, the crippling sanctions put in place. The president was silent when dissident voices took to the streets in Iran and, of course, he hasn’t prepared the military options that would present credibly our ability to take out the threat that would be presented by Iran. He’s failed on that.

Next, Romney turned to what he sees as the second biggest threat to Americans: “And then how about with regards to the economy…”

His disturbing emphasis on Iran, which in no way presents a military threat to the United States — over the economy, no less — is very telling.

Romney insists that the administration’s engagement efforts have failed. Not quite.

Obama has hardly engaged in any diplomacy with Iran. After an initial foray in that direction, he quickly pulled back, deterred first by the Iranian government’s crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in 2009 and then by a Congress that, guided by AIPAC, vehemently opposes any negotiations with Iran.

According to Iran expert and journalist Barbara Slavin, the Obama administration has spent a grand total of 45 minutes in direct engagement with Iran.

Romney’s claim that “we have no sanctions of a severe nature” is just as false. The sanctions regime imposed by Obama is unprecedented in its severity. (Take a look at the full range of sanctions.)

According to a law signed by Obama in December, as of next summer, anyone who buys Iranian oil will be banned from doing business with the United States. We have the largest economy in the world, so this act could do much to damage not only Iran’s economy but also the economies of some of our most trusted allies, like South Korea. If Iran retaliates by keeping its oil off the world market and causing prices to skyrocket, the dire effects will be felt globally. Including here at home.

Sanctions will probably not succeed in preventing an Iranian bomb (since the days of the Shah, Iranians of all political stripes, including the Green Movement, have supported Iran’s right to nuclear development) but it is just absurd to argue that Obama has resisted imposing them.

As for the claim that Obama was “silent” when Iranian demonstrators took to the streets, Romney must know that America’s embrace of the demonstrators would have been the kiss of death. Or maybe Romney actually believes that their cause would have been advanced if they could have been convincingly portrayed as U.S. puppets.

The remaining Romney charge is the only one that matters because, unlike the other two, it is not just an example of misinformation or prevarication. It is a clear indication that Romney believes that the only way to deal with Iran is through war.

What else can it mean when Romney says that Obama has not “prepared the military options”?

Of course, Obama has. The president and the U.S. military fully prepare war contingency plans for use in every volatile international situation. To assert that they have none for Iran (a major U.S. adversary since 1979) is really an accusation that Obama is not ready for war now. Romney, on the other hand, clearly is.

And why wouldn’t he be?

Romney told us where he stands on Iran (and the Middle East in general) on October 7, 2011, when he announced the 22 members of his foreign policy team.

Fifteen of the 22 worked on foreign policy for the George W. Bush administration and six were members of the original neoconservative group, Project for the New American Century, that famously called on President Clinton in 1998 to begin “implementing a strategy for removing Saddam’s regime from power.” Its rationale: Saddam was producing weapons of mass destruction.

We urge you to act decisively. If you act now to end the threat of weapons of mass destruction against the U.S. or its allies, you will be acting in the most fundamental national security interests of the country. If we accept a course of weakness and drift, we put our interests and our future at risk.

That was three years before 9/11 (after which members of the group decided, without any evidence, that Saddam Hussein was behind the monstrous attacks).

Clinton ignored the letter.

But, four years later in 2002, the next president, George W. Bush, with an administration packed with neoconservatives, heeded PNAC’s new call, not only for the removal of Saddam but also for an end to serious U.S. support for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

In that second letter, the neoconservatives were more explicit about where they stood and why.

No one should doubt that the United States and Israel share a common enemy. We are both targets of what you have correctly called an “Axis of Evil.” Israel is targeted in part because it is our friend, and in part because it is an island of liberal, democratic principles — American principles — in a sea of tyranny, intolerance, and hatred. As Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld has pointed out, Iran, Iraq, and Syria are all engaged in “inspiring and financing a culture of political murder and suicide bombing” against Israel, just as they have aided campaigns of terrorism against the United States over the past two decades. You have declared war on international terrorism, Mr. President. Israel is fighting the same war.

Bottom line: The United States and Israel had the same enemies — specifically Iran, Iraq and Syria — and therefore had to engage in “the same war.”

A year later, the United States invaded Iraq.

Today, with U.S. troops finally out of Iraq, the selfsame neocons are pushing for war with Iran (the first target proposed in the 2002 letter to Bush).

Last time they wanted to fight because they claimed, without tangible evidence, that Iraq had WMDs.

This time they want to fight because they claim, without tangible evidence, that Iran is developing them.

With even less evidence, they insist that Iran would gladly use a nuclear weapon to destroy Israel even if it meant the destruction of Iran. And they have successfully sold their line to the likely Republican nominee for president.

Can the same gang fool us twice?

As MSNBC host Rachel Maddow put it: “With the greatest American failure in American policy hung around their necks, with the Project for a New American Century neocon fantasy a punch line now, Mitt Romney as a presidential candidate has decided to embrace them.”

It is like a terrible joke.

The people who helped inflict one of the worst disasters in U.S. history on the American people are back to do it again. And the leading GOP contender for the presidency is following their lead.

To make it even worse, there is little indication that the incumbent Democratic president has decided to resist the war lobby’s push for conflict.

There is some good news, however.

In 2008, as he was preparing to leave office, President George W. Bush was urged by the same advisers (led by Vice President Dick Cheney) who had advocated invading Iraq to give Israel permission to bomb Iran.

But Bush, to his credit, was skeptical. Additionally, the Cheney neocon team was weakened by the departure of three of the most influential war enthusiasts: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith, and Vice Presidential Chief of Staff Scooter Libby. All three had left the administration unmourned by Bush and with their reputations in tatters.

Bush turned to Rumsfeld’s replacement, the anti-neocon Robert Gates, who told him that attacking Iran or allowing Israel to do so could turn the entire Middle East into a cauldron. Bush wisely said “no.”

It is hard to believe that his Democratic successor would say, “Okay, let’s bomb. It will be fine.” No Democrat is going to be more neocon than a Republican.

But Romney wouldn’t hesitate. That is why the neocons will be voting Republican this year. They are determined to get their old influence back and their next war started.

God help us if they succeed.

New approaches in Iraq could <I>help</I> Israel


For Israel and its American supporters, the Iraq War has scrambled the Middle East in ways that are difficult to navigate.

Once people hoped that the Iraq
War would make Israel safer. The neocons, who cooked up the invasion and sold it to a president desperate for historic glory that would surpass his father’s, considered Israel’s security to be an excellent side benefit of their splendid little war.

For those who missed the first part of this seemingly endless movie, the immensely popular invasion of Iraq would spark a democratic and moderate upsurge in the Middle East. Regimes would be toppled by popular revolts, whose leaders would have Bush’s name on their lips as they called simultaneously for democracy and accommodation with Israel.

Soon the rulers of Iran and Syria would fall and would be replaced by pliant, pro-Israel regimes. Even moderate Arab governments would be rejuvenated by democratic reform from within. Peace would surely follow, for which American military intervention would receive history’s credit.

We can put aside for now the question of how people who believed this nonsense ever came to lead the greatest nation on earth — and, in fact, still run it — are apparently going to blow off both their recent electoral defeat and the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group and “double down” their bet by increasing U.S. military forces in Iraq.

But because of their strong rhetorical support for Israel, the damage done to Israel’s regional interests by the Iraq War was masked. Israel is still America’s most ardent admirer and loyalist. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert recently extolled Bush’s leadership, and Israel may be one of the few places left on earth where Bush is popular. But has the war made Israel safer?

Several outcomes have emerged from the Iraq War. One is that as long as Bush is president, the United States is politically radioactive in the Middle East. The other is that Iran, Israel’s most formidable foe in the region, has been strengthened. No longer facing a hostile Iraq and profiting from America’s unpopularity, Iran has greater freedom of action than before.

America’s allies in the region are confused and alarmed. Saudi Arabia fears that Americans may withdraw quickly from Iraq, leaving their fellow Sunnis to annihilation by the Shiites allied with Iran. The Saudis recently summoned Vice President Dick Cheney to Riyadh to hear their concerns and have suggested that they would use military means if necessary to protect the Sunnis in Iraq.

Meanwhile, someone in the Bush administration implied that the United States is considering picking the Shiites in the civil war in Iraq in order to crush the Sunni insurgency. That plan could place the United States on a collision course with all of its Arab allies in the Mideast, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt.

One casualty of even speculating about picking sides is the loss of trust in the steadiness of American foreign policy. Of course, that very steadiness is what the Bush inner circle has long detested, seeing themselves as visionaries eliminating a “false stability” in the Middle East. As George Will acidly noted, at least that goal has now been achieved.

The antics of the Bush administration have motivated all sorts of experts and advisers with plans to help him gracefully exit from his Iraq fiasco. James Baker, an unpopular figure among many friends of Israel from his days as the first President Bush’s secretary of state, took charge of the salvage effort called, the Iraq Study Group. Among its recommendations were that the United States talk with Iran and Syria.

But the report also suggested that a deal on the Golan Heights between Israel and Syria could help build a better framework for peace. Pressure on Israel to make deals with Syria in order to help the United States exit Iraq may be asking a little too much.

Israel is now stuck between Iraq and a hard place; those in the administration who most uncritically support Israel don’t know what they’re doing, and those who have better ideas are more critical of Israel.

And so, we are left with what to do about Iran. The Bushies long felt that they could defeat Iran in the same rosy scenario they used with regard to Iraq. In their heady early days, they saw the Iraq War as a precursor to regime change in Iran and Syria (along with their other nemesis, North Korea).

They are dealing with Iranian exiles who tell them that we would be greeted as liberators. At the least, they are certain that an air strike on Iranian nuclear facilities would be a great and easy success.

Given the failure of this group to execute even the most basic elements of any of their policies, it is hard to have a lot of faith in that confidence. Finally, they presumably believe that Israel will deal with Iran if America can’t.

Every one of these scenarios with Iran is based on the absolute certainty of military success. No political or diplomatic concerns are raised or respected.

Yet Carl von Clausewitz provides several useful cautions. He once wrote, “No one starts a war — or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so — without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it.” And, “War is not a mere act of policy but a true political instrument, a continuation of political activity by other means.”

The argument for engaging our toughest enemies in the Middle East is plain to just about everybody except the Bush inner circle. They have long seen diplomacy with opponents in parent-child terms, a carrot given for good behavior and a stick for being bad. Why get dessert if you haven’t eaten your vegetables?

Political engagement and diplomacy, however, do not preclude military action as a last resort. They do assure that war will indeed be a last resort. And they offer possibilities for long-term change, such as strengthening the hand of domestic reformers.