The Huffington Post’s Jon Ward reports that the Mitt Romney campaign “recently decided to make Iran the centerpiece of their foreign policy strategy, believing it to be the most sensible point of attack, as well as a potent counterpoint to the inevitable Obama campaign boasts about bin Laden and Libya.”
Romney’s Iran strategy clearly depends on sending a message to Tehran that, if elected president, he would not shrink from using military force to destroy their nuclear weapons program.
“Mitt Romney will make clear to the Iranian regime through actions — not just words — that a military option to deal with its nuclear program remains on the table,” the campaign said in a recent release detailing the steps Romney would take to put additional pressure on Iran. “Only if Iran understands that the United States is determined that a nuclear-armed Iran is unacceptable will there be any possibility that Iran will give up its nuclear aspirations peacefully.”
Romney further points out, correctly, that Russia’s foot-dragging on Iran sanctions is further evidence (in addition to a worsening human rights record, involvement in bombings in Georgia, etc.) that the Obama administration’s Russian reset policy is a bust.
Dan Senor, a principal adviser to Romney on foreign affairs, told me this afternoon that the opportunity for sanctions to be effective is passing. He explained, “The administration’s sanctions policies are unlikely to stop Iran’s progress toward acquiring a nuclear weapon. Iran is unlikely to enter serious negotiations toward a resolution of this problem. As we’ve learned from the IAEA report, the overall trajectory will almost certainly not change. And the Russian response, which was to dismiss the IAEA report and any possibility of further sanctions, highlights the failure of Obama’s ‘reset.’ Moreover, we have evidence that Iran is getting more, and not less, aggressive.”
Senor added, “The failed attempt to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington, in an operation that could have killed scores of Americans, is a significant ratcheting-up of Iranian terrorist activities. It is not the first such attempt on American soil, but it is by far the most ambitious. It makes clear that as Iran moves closer to possession of nuclear weapons, it is also becoming bolder in the use of terrorism against targets in the U.S. The combination is a nightmare scenario.”
Our actions in Iraq and our stance toward Syria have only made things worse, Senor told me: “The Obama administration’s precipitous and unexpected total withdrawal of American forces from Iraq has given Iran an enormous opportunity in that key neighboring state. The entire region views our pullout as an American defeat and an Iranian victory, which has shaken the confidence of our allies. The fact that Obama made this decision within days of the revelation of the Iranian terrorist plot is especially damaging.”
And as for the butcher of Damascus, Senor warned that “getting our Syria policy right is crucial because [Bashar al-]Assad’s regime is Tehran’s only Arab-world ally; it’s Tehran’s only port on the Mediterranean; and it’s Tehran’s path to arming Hezbollah. The fall of Assad would be a strategic blow to Tehran. So Syria is important not only because of the human catastrophe, but also due to the strategic imperative of setting back Iran.”
At the debate tonight, we will see other candidates’ views on Iran. Rick Santorum has also offered a comprehensive approach to Iran. The issue for voters will be to determine who has the determination, the judgment and the smarts to construct a foreign policy that effectively disarms Iran. Rhetoric is nice, but it is much harder to discern who is most capable.
To Romney’s credit, he’s already revealed the sorts of people he’d select as advisers on foreign policy. (His foreign policy team includes serious voices, such as Senor, Eliot Cohen, Robert Kagan and Michael Hayden.) Part of Romney’s argument for his own candidacy is that — in contrast to President Obama, who selected feckless aides (retired Gen. James Jones, among them) and fell down in executing an effective policy — he will have a capable team, experienced in national security and with clear direction. (Contrast the Romney team with the hodgepodge of odd voices assembled by Newt Gingrich, including Robert McFarlane, whose claim to “fame” was the Iran-contra debacle and was part of a team assembled to push for an imposing a peace plan on Israel.)
But ultimately we don’t know for certain how a candidate will react under pressure in a foreign-policy crisis. Few expected that George W. Bush would become a wartime president. Jimmy Carter boasted Navy credentials but turned into a wet noodle in office. It’s perhaps the most important element in electing a president and the one which is arguably the toughest to assess. We’ll get at least some insight tonight.