John Kerry, a Democrat from Massachusetts, is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
I have little interest in inserting myself, as a former nominee of my party, into this presidential campaign season. But as the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which has a vital role in issues of national security, I feel compelled to respond to the ways that, in pursuit of the Republican nomination, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney has put himself front and center in debates that have serious consequences.
In 2010, Romney inserted himself into Senate consideration of the New START Treaty and sharpened his newly minted conservative credentials on this page by authoring a series of blisteringly inaccurate assertions about the treaty. In so doing, he separated himself from former Republican secretaries of state James Baker, Henry Kissinger, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice; discarded the wisdom of former Republican defense secretaries such as Robert Gates; and pitted himself against former president George H.W. Bush. Fortunately, a third of Senate Republicans disagreed with him and voted to make America safer. Americans will ultimately decide whether 71 senators and so many Republican foreign policy hands were right — or whether Candidate Romney knew something they didn’t.
Today Romney’s goal remains winning the acquiescence of his party’s base — but his target is different: Iran. It is deja vu. While wise Republicans stress the perils of loose war talk and the value of engagement to isolate Iran, Romney seeks to create political division with an attack on the Obama administration’s Iran policy that is as inaccurate as it is aggressive.
I join this debate because the nuclear issue with Iran is deadly serious business. It should invite sobriety and thoughtfulness, not sloganeering and sound bites. The stakes are far too high for it to become just another applause line on the stump. Idle talk of war only helps Iran by spooking the tight oil market and increasing the price of the Iranian crude that pays for its nuclear program.
Creating false differences with President Obama to score political points does nothing to move Iran off a dangerous nuclear course. Worse, Romney does not even do Americans the courtesy of describing how he would do anything different from what the Obama administration has already done.
Case in point: He calls for ever-tightening sanctions on Iran. What exactly does he think we’ve been doing for the past three years? When Obama took office, Iran was in the ascendancy. Its reach through proxies such as Hezbollah threatened the United States, its allies and the region. The international community was divided; diplomacy was stalled.
But in June 2010, with a decisive push from Obama, the United Nations put in place the most comprehensive sanctions the Iranian government has ever faced — with restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities, banks and financial transactions, and the Revolutionary Guard Corps.
In coordination with allies, the administration has imposed additional measures on Iran’s petrochemical, oil and gas industry and its financial sector. Europe’s recently announced ban on Iranian oil imports will further pressure Iran’s economy.
Obama also worked closely with Congress to pass legislation that strengthened existing unilateral sanctions, and he signed an executive order enforcing tough new sanctions on Iran and its central bank.
Iran is virtually cut off from large parts of the international financial system. Almost $60 billion in energy-related projects have been put on hold or discontinued. It has started to lose oil sales to key customers in Europe and Asia; those losses could reach up to 40 percent of its daily sales, according to the International Energy Agency. Banking sanctions have prevented several customers from paying for Iran’s petroleum products, leaving the central bank short of hard currency and driving down the unofficial foreign exchange rate by 40 percent in a single month.
No one need take my word for it. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said last fall, “Every day our banking and trade activities and our agreements are being monitoring and blocked. . . . Our banks cannot make international transactions anymore.”
Iran is divided internally and isolated diplomatically like never before. The regime of its most important ally, Syria, is facing collapse.
And Obama has provided record amounts of security funding to help Israel maintain its qualitative military edge. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said, “Our security cooperation is unprecedented . . . and [President Obama] has backed those words with deeds.”
Why does it matter that Mitt Romney would distort the administration’s policy to drive a wedge in our politics? Because the stakes are gigantic, not for the president’s reelection but for our security: We have to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. That is why President Obama keeps reiterating that all options are on the table, even as he builds pressure for a diplomatic solution. Every word on this subject is scrutinized by our allies and our enemies. There is no room for misinterpretation.
We decide big issues in the United States through debate. But let’s have an honest debate, not a contrived one. Romney should take on the man in the White House instead of inventing straw men on op-ed pages. He should depend on facts instead of empty rhetoric. If we are to avoid a nuclear Iran then at some point we must all act like statesmen, not candidates. We need to be clear-eyed about what we have accomplished and what we have yet to do. Americans deserve no less from their commander in chief.