Romney and Iran’s ‘route to the sea’
By Glenn Kessler,
“Maybe one of the few bright spots in the Middle East developments in the last year has been the rising of the people in Syria against [President Bashar al-] Assad. Obviously, as you know, Syria is Iran’s only Arab ally in the region. Syria is the route that allows Iran to supply Hezbollah with weapons in Lebanon. Syria is Iran’s route to the sea.”
— Mitt Romney, question and answer session at AIPAC conference, March 6, 2012
We’ve puzzled over this comment for a while. When the presumptive GOP nominee referred to Syria as Iran’s “route to the sea” during the Arizona GOP debate in February, we figured it was just a slip of the tongue.
But then a reader counted at least five times in which Romney has used this phrase, including in the Feb. 22 debate, at last month’s American Israel Public Affairs Committee annual conference, in a TV interview (MSNBC, Dec. 21), on the radio (Kilmeade & Friends, Feb. 14) and even in a Washington Post interview (Feb. 10).
Considering that Syria shares no border with Iran — Iraq and Turkey are in the way — and that Iran has about 1,500 miles of coastline along the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman, leading to the Arabian Sea, the reader wanted to know: What’s Romney talking about?
This is the explanation provided by the Romney campaign: “It is generally recognized that Syria offers Iran strategic basing/staging access to the Mediterranean as well as to terrorist proxies in the Levant. This is a large reason why Iran invests so much in Syria.”
The campaign also noted that the Boston Globe had looked into this statement at the time of the Arizona debate.
The Globe noted that “given that Iran borders the sea, it seems to be an odd claim that Syria is Iran’s route to the sea.” The newspaper noted that Iran is able to reach the Mediterranean through the Suez Canal. But it said that “Romney’s comments are more accurate than they first seem,” citing a news report that Iran was building an army base in Syria and quoting an expert on the importance of Syria to Iran.
We also checked with other experts, many of whom confessed to being puzzled by Romney’s comments. Tehran certainly uses Syria to supply the militant groups Hezbollah and Hamas, but that has little to do with the water. The relationship with Syria could also effectively allow Iran to project its power to the Mediterranean and the border with Israel.
But does that really mean, “a route to the sea”?
The Pinocchio Test
Like many governors (or first-term senators), Romney has little foreign policy experience. If Romney is elected president, he will quickly learn that words have consequences. Precision in language is especially important in diplomacy, and here Romney used a phrase that left people befuddled as to his intent and meaning, especially since he did not even make a distinction between the Mediterranean and Arabian seas.
The fact that Romney has used this confusing phrase at least five times suggested that the term was not an accident. But the Romney campaign’s explanation is not especially satisfying.
Still, at this point, we don’t think this is worthy of a Pinocchio rating — unless we create a category for weird language. We welcome readers to help us watch if Romney says this again.
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