Mitt Romney is obviously quite bored. He had a fun few months of trolling the political world by letting us think he was preparing for a third stumbling run for the White House, but ever since pulling the plug on that gag in late January, things have been quiet for the ol’ Mittster. And so with little better to do and all the time in the world to kill, he’s keeping himself busy by trying to start wars with Iran.
Last week, Mitt added his voice to the increasingly farcical debate over the Obama administration’s nuclear negotiations with Iran, arguing in an Op-Ed for USA Today that the president should immediately “walk away” from the negotiations because it would show “courage”:
I say courage because signing an agreement — any agreement — would undoubtedly be a political home run. The news media would repeatedly feature the signing ceremony. The coverage would rehearse the long and tortured history between our two countries and exalt at the dawn of a new era. The Iranian pooh-bahs would appear tame and responsible. The president would look, well, presidential. An agreement would also boost the prospects for Hillary Clinton: achievement by association.
Generally speaking, “because it would impress Mitt Romney” is not a good foundation upon which to build U.S. foreign policy. Though he did offer some other reasons for why Obama should bolt. We entered into nuclear agreements with North Korea, he writes, and they cheated and ended up with nukes anyway, so why even bother negotiating with Iran? (The Clinton-era treaties with North Korea actually delayed their nuclear progress significantly and the country ended up obtaining nukes after the Bush administration sloppily mishandled the diplomatic situation it inherited.)
Also, Romney argues, there’s another, better approach to Iran. It’s the Mitt Romney plan, which also happens to be the Bibi Netanyahu plan:
The president claims that during Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's address to Congress, he didn't offer a solution. Maybe we read different texts. But in case there is any misunderstanding, here is what I heard Netanyahu say: Walk away from a Swiss-cheese agreement; institute even more punitive and crippling sanctions than have been imposed; and remove those sanctions only when Iran agrees to dismantle its nuclear enrichment capability and to submit to unrestricted inspections. Finally, if contrary to reason and expectation those sanctions don't bring Iran to its senses, prepare for a kinetic alternative.
What Romney steadfastly refuses to understand about sanctions is that for them to work in the way that he envisions, they need the backing of America’s allies and the international community. Building that sort of consensus is extraordinarily difficult, and the only reason Iran is even at the negotiating table now is because the U.S. spent decades convincing our allies and pressuring Iran’s neighbors to get on board with the sanctions regime. Now that we’re on the cusp of a diplomatic breakthrough on Iran’s nuclear program, Romney wants the U.S. to just walk away, and in the process repudiate all the countries that we enlisted in the effort.
Tom Cotton and his pals in the Senate at least had sense enough to try to pressure Iran into being the ones to break off the negotiations. Romney’s plan is for the U.S. to shoulder all the blame for what would be a large-scale diplomatic disaster. That very act would render the next part of his master scheme – “even more punitive and crippling sanctions” – a fantasy:
If the U.S. did as Romney wanted and “walked away” from the negotiations, international support for sanctions would collapse. There would be no question of having “even more punitive and crippling sanctions,” since the U.S. would be correctly seen as having wrecked the negotiations at the last minute. Many of the states that had previously been helping to pressure Iran economically would go back to doing business with them, and Iran would find itself under even less pressure than it is now.
And that brings us to the only remaining option: Romney’s “kinetic alternative,” which is a gloriously euphemistic way of saying "war."
We don’t yet know what the contours of the deal with Iran would look like (another reason why it makes no sense for Obama to just walk away), but there’s a strong argument to be made that any deal is better than no deal at all. But by Mitt’s reckoning, the “courageous” thing to do is to piss off all our allies and isolate ourselves on the international stage by pursuing an aggressive policy toward Iran that won’t stop them from obtaining nuclear weapons, but will inevitably tilt us toward yet another armed conflict in the Middle East. This is a bad plan, and we should all be very happy that Mitt Romney was not elected president in 2012.
The Romney plan is, however, squarely within the mainstream of Republican foreign policy thinking, which assumes that we can conjure a perfect solution to the problem of Iran’s nuclear ambition by “projecting strength” and “sending the right message.” All that’s required is the “courage” to ignore every single practical reason for why that won’t work.