Today Mitt Romney penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on news that Iran is creeping closer to obtaining nuclear weapons. Texas Gov. Rick Perry released a tough-minded statement yesterday. No word from Herman Cain, who would no doubt say he’d talk to whomever he hired when he became president. (Sigh.) It is hardly surprising but still dismaying that Obama hasn’t had anything to say on the topic.
So what did Romney say? His recap of how we got here is spot on, chiding President Obama for, in the name of Russian reset, “reneging on a missile-defense agreement with Eastern European allies and agreeing to a New Start Treaty to reduce strategic nuclear weapons while getting virtually nothing in return.” He bashes the president for letting the Green Movement fade away, and with it the best shot at regime change. And he is dismissive of Obama’s sanctions approach as well:
In 2010, the administration did finally impose another round of sanctions, which President Obama hailed as a strike “at the heart” of Iran’s ability to fund its nuclear programs. But here again we can see a gulf between words and deeds. As the IAEA report makes plain, the heart that we supposedly struck is still pumping just fine. Sanctions clearly failed in their purpose. Iran is on the threshold of becoming a nuclear power.
Recent events have brought White House fecklessness to another low. When Iran was discovered plotting to kill Saudi Arabia’s ambassador by setting off a bomb in downtown Washington, the administration responded with nothing more than tough talk and an indictment against two low-level Iranian operatives, as if this were merely a common criminal offense rather than an act of international aggression. Demonstrating further irresolution, the administration then floated the idea of sanctioning Iran’s central bank, only to quietly withdraw that proposal.
As for his own approach, Romney advocates a series of steps:
I will begin by imposing a new round of far tougher economic sanctions on Iran. I will do this together with the world if we can, unilaterally if we must. I will speak out forcefully on behalf of Iranian dissidents. I will back up American diplomacy with a very real and very credible military option. I will restore the regular presence of aircraft carrier groups in the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf region simultaneously. I will increase military assistance to Israel and coordination with all of our allies in the region. These actions will send an unequivocal signal to Iran that the United States, acting in concert with allies, will never permit Iran to obtain nuclear weapons.
Of course, it may be too late for sanctions. Some conservative hawks suggest it’s time to drop that subject altogether and begin to talk about the only viable option: a military action. One Obama critic emailed me, “Sanctions haven’t stopped the program to date, and new sanctions won’t either. The Russians have already said they won’t support new sanctions. . . the EU won’t do anything really tough with an important trading partner while their currency is collapsing, and there are very few additional sanctions the U.S. can impose that it hasn’t already put in place. Every day that we spend pursuing sanctions is another day Iran makes progress on its weapons program.”
Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies made an excellent point to me: Romney should not restrict his comments to Russia’s role in this. Dubowitz argues: “Governor Romney should marry his criticisms of Chinese economic and trade policies with a condemnation of China’s role in helping Iran build nuclear weapons. Chinese companies are active in providing key parts and components for Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Beijing could severely impair Iran’s drive to a nuclear weapon by shutting down on this trade.” He further observes, “If Beijing doesn’t fear U.S. sanctions, perhaps it will be more concerned about American consumers furious that China is aiding and abetting an Iranian regime developing weapons that threaten every American.” And given that Romney is looking more like the nominee every day, Romney’s role becomes more significant. “Governor Romney is well-positioned to educate Americans about the Chinese-Iranian proliferation axis and to put Beijing to a choice between Iranian nuclear and weapons trade and its largest consumer market.”
The next president (if not this one) will at some point need to make a tough call on use of military force. More should follow Romney’s lead and spell out precisely where they stand on the stand on this issue. It may be the most important issue in an election dominated by domestic concerns.