Washington Watch: Fanning the winds of war

Mitt Romney, the putative GOP frontrunner, keeps saying if Obama is re-elected Iran will surely get the bomb and only he can stop it.

Teddy Roosevelt 390 CARTOON MCT (photo credit: MCT/Griswold/San Jose Mercury News 2007)
Teddy Roosevelt 390 CARTOON MCT
(photo credit: MCT/Griswold/San Jose Mercury News 2007)
If Teddy Roosevelt were alive today he’d be drummed out of the Republican Party – and not just because his views on protecting the environment, busting trusts, increasing government regulation of businesses, regulating meat inspection and food and drug safety are totally out of step with today’s GOP.
The man whose motto was “speak softly and carry a big stick” would be outraged by the jingoism of his party in the 21st Century. The first American Nobel Prize winner was recognized for negotiating an end to the Russo-Japanese war.
His would-be White House successors sound like they want to start at least one and possibly two more wars.
Three leading candidates for the Republican nomination – Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum – are trying to beat the war drums louder than each other.
The 2008 GOP nominee, Sen. John McCain, a former fighter-bomber pilot, has just called for the United States to begin bombing Syria.
Santorum said he “would consider” that; so far his rivals are only willing to arm the rebels.
They leave no doubt, however, when it comes to Iran. And they like talking about it. Loudly.
When Barack Obama said there’s “too much loose talk of war” and quoted Teddy Roosevelt’s famous line, Republicans turned all their verbal artillery on him. How could he say such a thing? The Iranians might mistake it for weakness.
Obama said he and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “prefer to resolve [the Iranian nuclear issue] diplomatically.”
Netanyahu didn’t leave that impression in his AIPAC speech the next evening.
Give sanctions a chance, the president told delegates to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference; the economic noose is tightening, causing Iran’s leaders great pain.
Not enough pain, said AIPAC’s executive director Howard Kohr. “(M)ore needs to be done” to force Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions.
“We believe there is still time for these things to work. We believe there is still time to ratchet up the pressure, to create a different dynamic inside Iran and their decision-making.
And we think that is going to be one of the central challenges at the moment,” Kohr said.
Mitt Romney, the putative GOP frontrunner, keeps saying that if Obama is reelected Iran will surely get the bomb and only he can stop it. Of course, if Obama began bombing Iran today you can bet Romney would be among the first to attack him for rushing into war and creating a spike in gasoline prices and an international economic crisis.
Romney has one advantage over Obama. Anything he or any other challenger says is mere non-binding campaign rhetoric and subject to change at any moment, while pronouncements by a president are national policy, with real consequences.
Obama also doesn’t want to repeat the intelligence mistakes that the Bush administration made in its haste to go to war with Iraq.
If Romney, Santorum and Gingrich believe their tough rhetoric will frighten the Iranians, they should think back to their demigod Ronald Reagan.
In the 1980 campaign a favorite Republican line was, “What is brown and glows at night?” Answer: “Iran after Reagan is elected.” It was a reference to the hostage crisis.
The Iranians refused to deal with Jimmy Carter and held back the release of the American diplomats until he was out of office on January 20, 1981.One might argue that the Iranians freed them out of fear of what Reagan might do, but the fact that Iran not only paid no price but got back a lot of its frozen assets suggests just the opposite.
Reagan, in Iranian eyes, turned out to be a paper tiger, which no doubt encouraged Tehran’s adventurousness and efforts to extend the Islamic revolution. They paid no price for their role in the 444-day hostage crisis, the 1983 bombing of the US Marine barracks in Beirut and other acts of anti- American terrorism.
Would a President Romney/Santorum/Gingrich be as anxious to bomb Iran as Candidate Romney/Santorum/ Gingrich? Remember Candidate George W. Bush’s promise to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem? Did you notice how these guys are making the same promise? On the campaign trail, the Republican war lovers are ready, in the words of McCain in the 2008 election, to “Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran.” Romney on the stump: It’s not enough for Obama to say the military option is “on the table,” the Iranians need to see visible preparations for war.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell went one step farther, telling AIPAC the administration should announce that if Iran enriches uranium to weapons grade “we will respond with overwhelming military force.”
Santorum: “I would be saying to the Iranians, you either open up those facilities, you begin to dismantle them and make them available to inspectors or we will degrade those facilities through air strikes and make it very public that we are doing that.”
Gingrich advised Netanyahu not to give the Obama administration advance notice if he decides to attack Iran because it can’t be trusted not to leak the information.
So far, it’s just campaign talk – but, as we’ve seen too often in the past, careless election-year rhetoric can lead to armed conflict.