What exactly is Mitt Romney’s position on Iran – and what does it tell us about his general approach to foreign policy?
Romney said something astonishing on Face the Nation yesterday (my emphasis) that hasn’t gotten enough attention:
I can assure you if I’m President, the Iranians will have no question but that I would be willing to take military action, if necessary, to prevent them from becoming a nuclear threat to the world…I understand that some in the Senate, for instance, have written letters to the President indicating you should know that — that a — a containment strategy is unacceptable. We cannot survive a — a course of action which would include a nuclear Iran, and we must be willing to take any and all action, they must all — all those actions must be on the table.
Now, that’s pretty amazing. The United States could survive forty years of Cold War with a nuclear Soviet Union, and even now survives a nuclear China and, for that matter, a nuclear North Korea, but it couldn’t survive a nuclear Iran?
Of course, if what’s at stake is survival, then containment certainly is unacceptable, and military action is called for regardless of how hazardous and (self-) destructive it’s likely to be. If, however, that’s a bunch of hogwash and a nuclear Iran would be bad for the United States but would not lead inevitably to its demise, then policy-making is a lot more tricky, with a variety of interests and risks to be balanced.
Which raises two broader points. One is that there really does seem to be a divide within the Republican Party between a more cautious and traditional foreign policy approach, and the kind of of bellicose and grandiose national security thinking that still, apparently, sees the Iraq War as a great success. Which side is Romney with? That’s a good question for the next reporter who gets a chance to sit down with him.
And the second point: we’re talking here about a one-term governor who has no particular foreign policy or national security credentials at all. Romney hasn’t been particularly challenged on that, perhaps because he’s certainly not a Herman Cain-level clown. But so far, he’s managed to keep his foreign policy positions vague, mostly confining himself to hawkish slogans and criticisms of a mythical Barack Obama (and, sometimes, as in his “No Apology” book title, both!). Will he be able to keep it up throughout the campaign?