Roundup: Media's Take
This is where we excerpt articles from the media that take a historical approach to events in the news.
SOURCE: The Daily Beast (11-13-12)
Newsweek/Daily Beast special correspondent Michael Tomasky is also editor of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas.
You know the history. Arthur Laffer sketched out his famous curve—whether on a napkin or not is apparently still debated—back in 1974, when the top marginal rate was 90 percent. There is a certain point, Laffer explained, at which rates decrease revenue. Since many of the people to whom he was doing this explaining found themselves to be in or near the top bracket, quite naturally they liked his theory a lot....
...Mitt Romney was offering people a bigger cut than even Bush had. It was the centerpiece of his campaign, as it had been of Bush’s, and it was the central policy issue of this campaign in a way that Bush’s tax proposal wasn’t in 2000. In other words, if there was a single policy issue on which people voted this time, it was tax policy—whether everyone should get a massive cut (Romney), or whether the middle class should be held harmless and the wealthy should pay more (Barack Obama). It’s impossible to imagine a way in which the choice could have been clearer. And it’s hard to imagine the voters’ response being much clearer, either....
SOURCE: WaPo (11-9-12)
Robert Baer is a former CIA case officer and the author of several books on the Middle East.
Sometimes, age-old wisdom notwithstanding, the enemy of our enemy turns out not to be our friend. Once, in the mid-1980s, I was handed the portfolio for Libya’s opposition leaders, many of whom were operating out of Khartoum, Sudan. At first, I had only a hazy idea of who Moammar Gaddafi’s opponents were. All I knew for sure was that the Reagan administration wanted Gaddafi to go.
Late one night, I woke up to the sound of the butts of assault rifles pounding my door. Two of my Libyan contacts were on the run from Gaddafi’s assassins and expected me to protect them. We talked most of the night — about Libya, history and Allah. By the time they could safely leave, I had come to understand that the people we’d picked to replace Gaddafi were militant Salafists determined to turn Libya into an Islamic republic. They didn’t succeed then, but you could argue that the people who attacked our diplomatic outpost in Benghazi in September were their linear descendents....
SOURCE: WaPo (11-9-12)
David Maraniss, an associate editor of The Post, is the author of “Barack Obama: The Story” and “First in His Class: A Biography of Bill Clinton.” This column is part of an occasional series on the 2012 presidential candidates’ political lives.
On two historic election nights in Chicago, Barack Obama’s face has told the story. Four years ago in Grant Park, the solemnity of his expression after he took the stage revealed a man at last feeling the full weight of expectations. While his supporters cried and laughed and swayed with joy, his countenance reflected the responsibilities he soon would bear as president. On Tuesday, inside McCormick Place, his hair was grayer, his skin more creased, the crowd not so spontaneous. Yet his face betrayed an incredible lightness of being that went beyond the simple relief that he had won reelection.
Second terms often bring a new set of frustrations for a president, following the laws of diminishing returns and lame-duckiness. But history also shows that a second term is required to create, or to ratify, presidential greatness — and in that sense, Obama is not ambivalent about his ambitions. Since he first thought about being president, a notion that came to him relatively late compared with most politicians, he has wanted to be a great one. When he stepped onto the stage Tuesday night, he realized that he has that chance....
SOURCE: WaPo (11-12-12)
Charles Lane is an editorial writer for the Washington Post.
...On July 10, 2012, George Romney’s son Mitt stood before the NAACP’s annual convention as the soon-to-be Republican nominee for an office his father had coveted in vain: president. “If you want a president who will make things better in the African American community,” he declared, “you are looking at him.” He invoked his father’s legacy.
The audience responded with catcalls....
The NAACP didn’t boo Mitt Romney because he is especially hostile toward civil rights, much less a racist — or even because the NAACP’s delegates thought of him that way.
It happened because the delegates could not easily forget the intervening political history, in which the GOP had evolved from the party of George Romney into the party of white backlash. They could not forget it, and Mitt Romney’s personal heritage was not sufficient to trump it....
SOURCE: NYT (11-11-12)
THE re-election of President Obama, preceded by the extraordinary damage done by Hurricane Sandy, raises a critical question: In the coming years, might it be possible for the United States to take significant steps to reduce the risks associated with climate change?
A crucial decision during Ronald Reagan’s second term suggests that the answer may well be yes. The Reagan administration was generally skeptical about costly environmental rules, but with respect to protection of the ozone layer, Reagan was an environmentalist hero. Under his leadership, the United States became the prime mover behind the Montreal Protocol, which required the phasing out of ozone-depleting chemicals.
There is a real irony here. Republicans and conservatives had ridiculed scientists who expressed concern about the destruction of the ozone layer. How did Ronald Reagan, of all people, come to favor aggressive regulatory steps and lead the world toward a strong and historic international agreement?...
SOURCE: USA Today (11-7-12)
Ross K. Baker is a political science professor at Rutgers University and a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors.
Of the 43 men who have served as president, only 16 have been granted a second term. The voters who awarded the fortunate ones with an extended lease on the White House chose them for any number of reasons ranging from greater personal appeal to the incumbent's agenda, or satisfaction with the incumbent's performance.
In President Obama's case, it was a combination of all three. But Obama should look back on history for what might lie ahead. Second-term presidents who planned excessively bold agendas based on perceived mandates, or on freedom from the constraints of having to run for re-election, have stumbled badly.
In fact, the goals of re-elected incumbents rarely comport with what ultimately takes place in the second term. Often, events — rather than anything in the winner's playbook — can take unpredictable directions....
SOURCE: The Australian (11-9-12)
Alan R.M. Jones, an adviser in the Howard government, was also a political staffer in Washington during the presidency of Ronald Reagan.
Even before the ballot counting is complete in the US presidential election, analysts, party faithful and journalists such as Andrew Sullivan claim already to see forensic messages in the debris that is the Republican Mitt Romney's unsuccessful Oval Office bid.
Sullivan, who only days ago claimed that the "Confederacy" was ascendant when Romney's chances looked hopeful - somebody call General Sherman - now claims Barack Obama has won a historic political and ideological referendum. He says 2012 is to today's political tectonics what Ronald Reagan's re-election was was to 1980s America.
Sullivan claims that Obama's 24-state, 303 electoral college vote win (as of yesterday's tally) represents a landslide that has delivered "a permanent Democratic majority". Obama's razor-thin 50.1 per cent of the popular vote has led Sullivan to anoint him "a Democratic Reagan".
Earth to Sullivan, the Gipper won 49 states - all but Democratic challenger Walter Mondale's home state of Minnesota - and nearly 60 per cent of the popular vote. Reagan's re-election was a landslide victory of historic proportions.
Had Romney pulled another 300,000 or so votes across the four battleground states of Florida, New Hampshire, Ohio and Virginia, Obama would be packing his teleprompter...
SOURCE: The Scotsman (11-8-12)
Michael Kelly is a columnist at The Scotsman.
Supporters of Scottish independence are mistaken if they think America’s past strengthens their case, writes Michael Kelly.
The Nationalists’ latest attempts to wrap their referendum in the Stars and Stripes is an admission of failure – their failure to find a credible present-day model for their headlong dash into the dark. Having failed to convince with "independence in Europe", and even less with the crumbling "arc of prosperity", supporters of separation are forced back more than 200 years to a time of different political philosophies and different geopolitics to provide a crutch for their disabled position.
George Kerevan’s piece in these pages last week was carefully argued to show that if the British colonists had fallen for the "fear" arguments and dire warnings of caution, the United States would not have come into being. He made his case, but in doing so admitted the uncertainty which surrounds such decisions and the risk involved. We just don’t know where independence might lead. But we do know the stability that we are asked to sacrifice. We are not the SAS. "Who dares wins" is not an attractive slogan to persuade us to loosen our ties in an increasingly interdependent world.
Some SNP supporters took the argument further by comparing our 2014 vote to the American Revolution. The differences between the two situations clearly show the comparison to be invalid...
SOURCE: American Spectator (11-7-12)
Aaron Goldstein writes from Boston, Massachusetts.
For months, conservatives have been likening the conditions of the 2012 presidential race to that which saw the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. The American Spectator's own Jeffrey Lord proclaimed that President Obama could be beaten handily "because the past four years really have been Jimmy Carter's second term."
Victor Davis Hanson of National Review Online put it this way:
What does 1980 tell us about 2012? Barack Obama, like Carter, can run neither on his dismal four-year stewardship of the economy nor on his collapsing Middle East policy.
Hanson went on to write:
The winner probably won't be decided by old video clips, gaffes, or even campaign money, but by turnout and the October debates -- depending on whether incumbent Obama comes across as a petulant Carter and challenger Romney appears an upbeat Reagan. As in 1980, voters want a better president -- but they first have to be assured he's on the ballot.
Well, Obama did come across as petulant in the debates while Romney was upbeat. And yet it wasn't enough. At the end of the day, despite Obama's dismal economic record and an ineffectual Middle East policy, his well-oiled organization turned out his vote and Romney could not. Romney could not break through in key states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan nor could he put Ohio and Florida back in the Republican column.
And yet Obama didn't win on turnout alone. He won because America has changed. We're not in 1980 anymore...
SOURCE: Foreign Policy (11-7-12)
Kerry Brown is professor of Chinese politics and director of the China Studies Center at the University of Sydney and team leader of the Europe China Research and Advice Network.
The most noticeable feature of China's outgoing president, Hu Jintao, is his dullness. In his 10 years in power, he's on record making one joke: about hair dye. His dullness is even more startling because the county he heads is one of the most dynamic, fractious, and energetic places on Earth. Although Hu presents a blank face to the world and speaks only in the sterile, generic language of Chinese officialdom, the cities he oversees can change beyond recognition in weeks. Skyscrapers race up, sometimes as fast as a floor a day. Since Hu came to power in 2002, the country has built a multibillion-dollar high-speed rail network from scratch. As the world's eyes turned to China for the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics in 2008, Hu simply declared, "The Beijing 2008 Games have opened." Those connected to the party secretary say, with absolute finality, that their leader doesn't do emotion.
Hu's dullness, however, stems from his immense self-control, and it is an integral part of a political personality one can only assume, in the highly strategic world of elite Chinese politics, was chosen very early on. Early biographies state that while a student at Qinghua in the 1960s, Hu was a keen dancer. When did he lose this slight hint of spontaneity? In his decade in power, Hu has maintained rigid control over the nine members of the Politburo Standing Committee, the absolute summit of decision-making in China, which in turn maintained a strong grip on Chinese society. The disgrace of key leaders, like former Shanghai party secretary Chen Liangyu in 2006 and Chongqing party secretary Bo Xilai in March, led to no noticeable fissures or dissent. Hu has adroitly handled unpleasant surprises, like the Tibetan riots in 2008, albeit with vast influxes of central funding and security spending. (Makers of close-circuit televisions in China have grown rich under Hu; rare for a country not fighting an armed rebellion or a civil war, spending on internal policing has outpaced national defense.)
But the world's most cautious, most seemingly egoless leader has made a massive gamble, the results of which will determine his legitimacy. Hu has bet that his half-decade-long strategy of pursuing economic growth instead of political or legal reform will be proven right. He hopes that China does not have to address its immense governance issues until it is wealthy enough to deal with them in a way that minimizes risk. Many party analysts believe that Soviet leaders' decision to reform politics before fixing the economy caused the fall of the Soviet Union: By ensuring strong growth, Hu ensured that China would not repeat the same mistake -- at least not on his watch. But as Hu and his Standing Committee colleagues have focused nearly single-mindedly on growth, the hard and soft costs of policing an increasingly unbalanced China have been rising sharply...
SOURCE: WSJ (11-7-12)
Juan Williams is a political analyst for Fox News and a columnist for the Hill.
...The first American political party, the Federalists, became overly dependent on a small, wealthy class of political elites based in the Northeast. As the nation expanded, they were eventually overtaken by the more populist Democratic-Republicans with a strong base in the growing American South.
Similarly, before the Civil War, the Whigs were a major political party based in the North who opposed Andrew Jackson's Democratic Party. Abraham Lincoln began his career as a Whig. They joined the new Republican Party and strengthened the cause of abolition.
After the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Southern Democrats, known as the Dixiecrats, left their party for the Republican Party. They helped to transform the South from a reliably Democratic to a GOP stronghold, giving us Presidents Nixon, Reagan and Bush.
Now the cycles of history have turned against the GOP. The 2008 and 2012 Obama coalitions are no longer the exception to electoral politics. They are the new rule....
SOURCE: The Daily Beast (11-8-12)
Martin A. Lee is the author of Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana – Medical, Recreational and Scientific (Scribner, August 2012). He is the cofounder of the media watch group FAIR, director of Project CBD, and the author of Acid Dreams and The Beast Reawakens. For more information and regular updates, follow Smoke Signals—the book on Facebook.
...From a historical perspective, marijuana prohibition is an aberration. For thousands of years men and women in many cultures have used cannabis as a curative and a source of fiber and oil. It wasn’t until well into the 20th century that U.S. legislators and their international counterparts imposed a global prohibitionist regime. How did this aberration come to pass and why has it persisted until now?
Concerned that his entire department was on the chopping block because of Depression-era budget cuts, Federal Bureau of Narcotics chief Harry Anslinger launched the Reefer Madness campaign to convince a clueless Congress and the American public that a terrible menace threatened the country, one that required a well-funded antinarcotics effort. Determined to criminalize the herb and build his bureaucratic fiefdom, Anslinger promoted all the hoary myths about marijuana-induced mayhem and sexual depravity—stories of pot-crazed ax murderers, playground pushers, sordid drug dens, and buxom reefer babes whose lives were ruined by smoking the devil’s weed with dark-skinned rogues.
In the world according to Anslinger, marijuana was a deadly, addictive drug that enslaved its users and turned them into violent, deranged freaks. He rang alarm bells in segregated America by claiming that marijuana promoted interracial lust. Prior to the passage of the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act, which effectively banned all forms of hemp, Anslinger pounded home the message: white women are in mortal peril because of marijuana—and so are American children. His racially charged demonization of marijuana paralleled the rise of European fascist regimes that exploited fear and hatred of the Other....
SOURCE: NYT (11-7-12)
Ross Douthat is a columnist for the New York Times.
When you do it once, it’s just a victory. When you do it twice, it’s a realignment.
The coalition that Barack Obama put together to win the presidency handily in 2008 looked a lot like the emerging Democratic majority that optimistic liberals had been discerning on the political horizon since the 1990s. It was the late George McGovern’s losing coalition from 1972 finally come of age: Young voters, the unmarried, African-Americans, Hispanics, the liberal professional class – and then more than enough of the party’s old blue collar base to hold the Rust Belt for the Democrats....
In this sense, just as Reagan Republicanism dominated the 1980s even though the Democrats controlled the House, our own era now clearly belongs to the Obama Democrats even though John Boehner is still speaker of the House....
But getting there requires that conservatives face reality: The age of Reagan is officially over, and the Obama majority is the only majority we have.
SOURCE: LA Times (11-7-12)
Michael Kinsley, a former editorial page editor at The Times, is a Bloomberg View columnist.
Wednesday is the day of the Great Pundit Pivot. It happens every four years, the day after a presidential election. Before the election, every commentator wants to be Michael Barone. Afterward, everyone wants to be Oswald Spengler....
Barone is out. Spengler (1880-1936, philosopher and author of "The Decline of the West," which I've never read either) is in. On TV, on opinion pages, the political consultants are escorted off the premises and in come the historians.
Whereas before the election, the goal of punditry was to narrow the group of people who are responsible for the result (citizens of Ohio, soccer moms, undecided voters, black Republicans, Irish Catholics in Iowa and so on), after the election the goal is to produce a theory that implicates the entire nation, or indeed the world and known universe in the result, whatever it may be. And it matters even less whether you are right or wrong than it did before the election. Whether you're right or wrong won't be known for at least 100 years or so anyway....
SOURCE: The New Republic (11-7-12)
John B. Judis has been writing for The New Republic since 1984 and has been a senior editor since 1994.
There are two different systems that are at work in American politics. The first is the electoral system. It was on display last night, as Barack Obama won re-election, and the Democrats held onto the Senate and the Republicans the House. The second is the pressure system--a term used by the great political scientist E. E. Schattschneider to describe the competition between lobbies and political organizations to influence not just who wins elections, but what politicians do in office.
This election shows a continuing party realignment toward the Democrats, which began in the late 1990s, hit speed bumps after September 11 and again in 2010, but has resumed. But within the pressure system, through their alliance with business, the Republicans have been able to weaken or block Democratic initiatives, even if they were favored by electorate. The question for the next four years is whether Obama and the Democrats can use the clout they have acquired from their electoral success to overcome the power that Republicans exercise inside Washington and in Congress.
I call this relatively close election a continuation of party realignment precisely because Obama won under such adverse circumstances. The unemployment was higher than when he took office. By 54.1 to 40.6 percent Americans believed the country was on “the wrong track” rather than going in the “right direction.” Obama’s approval rating had finally hit 50 percent on October 28, but his disapproval was 45 percent. These kind of numbers, as Republican strategists repeatedly asserted, boded ill for the president’s re-election. In 1980, Ronald Reagan had rode the question, “Are you better off today than you were four years ago?” to victory over incumbent Jimmy Carter....
SOURCE: Financial Times (UK) (11-4-12)
The writer is a co-ordinator with the Asia Programme of the German Marshall Fund of the United States.
SOURCE: WaPo (11-5-12)
Katrina vanden Heuvel writes a weekly column for The Post.
SOURCE: Moscow Times (11-6-12)
Richard Lourie is the author of Sakharov: A Biography and The Autobiography of Joseph Stalin.
SOURCE: The Nation (10-24-12)
Clara Gutteridge is a human rights investigator who documents national security–related abuses in the East and Horn of Africa. She was formerly resident fellow at the Open Society Justice Initiative and Deputy Director of the Secret Prisons team at Reprieve.
SOURCE: TomDispatch (11-4-12)
Jeremiah Goulka, a TomDispatch regular, writes about American politics and culture, focusing on security, race, and the Republican Party. He was formerly an analyst at the RAND Corporation, a Hurricane Katrina recovery worker, and an attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice. You can follow him on Twitter @jeremiahgoulka or contact him through his website jeremiahgoulka.com.
It’s the consensus among the pundits: foreign policy doesn’t matter in this presidential election. They point to the ways Republican candidate Mitt Romney has more or less parroted President Barack Obama on just about everything other than military spending and tough talk about another “American century.”
The consensus is wrong. There is an issue that matters: Iran.
Don’t be fooled. It’s not just campaign season braggadocio when Romney claims that he would be far tougher on Iran than the president by threatening “a credible military option.” He certainly is trying to appear tougher and stronger than Obama -- he of the drone wars, the “kill list,” and Bin Laden’s offing -- but it’s no hollow threat.
The Republican nominee has surrounded himself with advisors who are committed to military action and regime change against Iran, the same people who brought us the Global War on Terror and the Iraq War. Along with their colleagues in hawkish think tanks, they have spent years priming the public to believe that Iran has an ongoing nuclear weapons program, making ludicrous claims about “crazy” mullahs nuking Israel and the United States, pooh-poohing diplomacy -- and getting ever shriller each time credible officials and analysts disagree.
Unlike with Iraq in 2002 and 2003, they have it easier today. Then, they and their mentors had to go on a sales roadshow, painting pictures of phantom WMDs to build up support for an invasion. Today, a large majority of Americans already believe that Iran is building nuclear weapons.
President Obama has helped push that snowball up the hill with sanctions to undermine the regime, covert and cyber warfare, and a huge naval presence in the Persian Gulf. Iran has ratcheted up tensions via posturing military maneuvers, while we have held joint U.S.-Israeli exercises and "the largest-ever multinational minesweeping exercise" there. Our navies are facing off in a dangerous dance.
Obama has essentially loaded the gun and cocked it. But he has kept his finger off the trigger, pursuing diplomacy with the so-called P5+1 talks and rumored future direct talks with the Iranians. The problem is: Romney’s guys want to shoot.
Unlike Iraq, Iran Would Be an Easy Sell
Remember those innocent days of 2002 and 2003, when the war in Afghanistan was still new and the Bush administration was trying to sell an invasion of Iraq? I do. I was a Republican then, but I never quite bought the pitch. I never felt the urgency, saw the al-Qaeda connection, or worried about phantom WMDs. It just didn’t feel right. But Iran today? If I were still a Republican hawk, it would be “game on,” and I’d know I was not alone for three reasons.
First, even armchair strategists know that Iran has a lot of oil that is largely closed off to us. It reputedly has the fourth largest reserves on the planet. It also has a long coastline on the Persian Gulf, and it has the ability to shut the Strait of Hormuz, which would pinch off one of the world’s major energy arteries.
Then there is the fact that Iran has a special place in American consciousness. The Islamic Republic of Iran and the mullahs who run it have been a cultural enemy ever since revolutionary students toppled our puppet regime there and stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979. The country is a theocracy run by angry-looking men with long beards and funny outfits. It has funded Hezbollah and Hamas. Its crowds call us the “Great Satan.” Its president denies the Holocaust and says stuff about wiping Israel off the map. Talk about a ready-made enemy.
Finally, well, nukes.
The public appears to be primed. A large majority of Americans believe that Iran has an ongoing nuclear weapons program, 71% in 2010 and 84% this March. Some surveys even indicate that a majority of Americans would support military action to stop Iran from developing nukes.
That’s remarkable considering how much less certain most experts seem. Take, for example, the National Intelligence Council, the senior panel that issues the government’s National Intelligence Estimates. It continues to stick with its opinion that Iran once had such a program, but closed it down in 2003. U.S., European, and Israeli officials consistently say that Iran does not have an ongoing program and hasn’t even decided to pursue one, that at most the Iranians are hanging out near the starting line. Iran’s supreme leader himself issued a fatwa against building nukes. Why, then, is the American public so certain? How did we get here?
There are three main reasons, only one of which is partially innocent.
What’s in a Name?
The first is linguistic and quite simple. Say these words out loud: Iran’s civilian nuclear program.
Does that sound familiar? Do those words look normal on the page? Chances are the answer is “no,” because that’s not how the media, public officials, or political candidates typically refer to Iran’s nuclear activities. Iran has a civilian nuclear power program, including a power plant at Beshehr, that was founded with the encouragement and assistance of the Eisenhower administration in 1957 as part of its “Atoms for Peace” program. Do we hear about that? No. Instead, all we hear about is “Iran’s nuclear program.” Especially in context, the implied meaning of those three words is inescapable: that Iran is currently pursuing nuclear weapons.
Out of curiosity, I ran some Google searches. The results were striking.
- "Iran’s disputed nuclear weapons program”: 4 hits
- "Iran’s possible nuclear weapons program”: about 8,990 hits
- “Iran's civil nuclear program”: about 42,200 hits
- “Iran’s civilian nuclear program”: about 199,000 hits
- “Iran’s nuclear weapons program”: about 5,520,000 hits
- “Iran’s nuclear program”: about 49,000,000 hits
Words matter, and this sloppiness is shaping American perceptions, priming the public for war.
Some of this is probably due to laziness. Having to throw in “civilian” or “weapons” or “disputed” or “possible” makes for extra work and the result is a bit of a tongue twister. Even people with good reasons to be precise use the shorter phrase, including President Obama.
But some of it is intentional.
The Proselytizing Republican Presidential Candidates
The second reason so many Americans are convinced that Iran is desperately seeking nukes can be attributed to the field of Republican candidates for the presidency. They used the specter of such a weapons program to bash one another in the primaries, each posturing as the biggest, baddest sheriff on the block -- and the process never ended.
The hyperbole has been impressive. Take Rick Santorum: “Once they have a nuclear weapon, let me assure you, you will not be safe, even here in Missouri.” Or Newt Gingrich: "Remember what it felt like on 9/11 when 3,100 Americans were killed. Now imagine an attack where you add two zeros. And it's 300,000 dead. Maybe a half million wounded. This is a real danger. This is not science fiction.”
And then there’s Mitt Romney: “Right now, the greatest danger that America faces and the world faces is a nuclear Iran.”
The Regime-Change Brigade
Even if they’re not exactly excusable, media laziness and political posturing are predictable. But there is a third reason Americans are primed for war: there exists in Washington what might be called the Bomb Iran Lobby -- a number of hawkish political types and groups actively working to make believers of us all when it comes to an Iranian weapons program and so pave the way for regime change. It should be noted that while some current and former Democrats have said that bombing Iran is a good idea, the groups in the lobby all fall on the Republican side of the aisle.
Numerous conservative and neoconservative think tanks pump out reports, op-eds, and journal articles suggesting or simply stating that "Iran has a nuclear weapons program" that must be stopped -- and that it’ll probably take force to do the job. Just check out the flow of words from mainstream Republican think tanks like the Heritage Foundation and AEI. (“It has long been clear that, absent regime change in Tehran, peaceful means will never persuade or prevent Iran from reaching its nuclear objective, to which it is perilously close.”) Or take the Claremont Institute (“A mortal threat when Iran is not yet in possession of a nuclear arsenal? Yes…”) or neoconservatives who sit in perches in nonpartisan institutes like Max Boot at the Council on Foreign Relations (“Air Strikes Against Iran Are Justifiable”).
You can see this at even more hawkish shops like the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, with its “campaign to ensure that Iran’s vow to destroy Israel and create ‘a world without America’ remains neither ‘obtainable’ nor ‘achievable.’” (According to one of its distinguished advisors, a Fox News host, Iran has “nuclear weapons programs” -- plural). At the old Cold War group the Committee on the Present Danger, Iran is “marching toward nuclearization.” Retired general and Christian crusader Jerry Boykin of the Family Research Council even told Glenn Beck, “I believe that Iran has a nuclear warhead now.”
There are also two organizations, much attended to on the right, whose sole goal is regime change. There’s the Emergency Committee for Israel, a militantly pro-Israel group founded by Bill Kristol and Gary Bauer that links the Christian right with the neocons and the Israel lobby. It insists that “Iran continues its pursuit of a nuclear weapon,” and it’s pushing hard for bombing and regime change.
No less important is the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), an Iranian dissident cult group that was recently, amid much controversy, removed from the official U.S. list of foreign terrorist organizations. The MEK brought Israeli intelligence about Iran’s then-active nuclear weapons program into the public eye at a Washington press conference in 2002. Since then, it has peppered the public with tales of Iranian nuclear chicanery, and it ran a major lobbying campaign, paying dozens of former U.S. anti-terrorism officials -- several of whom are now in the defense industry -- to sing its praises.
It wants regime change because it hopes that the U.S. will install its “president-elect” and “parliament-in-exile” in power in Tehran. (Think of Ahmed Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress, who played a similar role with the Bush administration in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. They even have some of the same boosters.)
And then there are the groups who want war with Iran for religious reasons. Take Christians United For Israel (CUFI), an End-Times politico-religious organization run by John Hagee, pastor of the Cornerstone megachurch in San Antonio. As scholar Nicholas Guyatt shows in his book Have a Nice Doomsday, Hagee’s organization promotes the belief, common among fundamentalist Christians, that a war between Israel and Iran will trigger the Rapture.
Hagee’s own book, Countdown Jerusalem, suggests that Iran already has nuclear weapons and the ability to use them, and he aggressively advocates an attack on that country. To many mainstream Americans, Hagee, his followers, and others with similar religious views may seem a bit nutty, but he is not to be discounted: his book was a bestseller.
The Supporting Cast
Republican-friendly media have joined the game, running blustery TV segments on the subject and cooking the books to assure survey majorities that favor military action. Take this question from a March poll commissioned by Fox News: “Do you think Iran can be stopped from continuing to work on a nuclear weapons program through diplomacy and sanctions alone, or will it take military force to stop Iran from working on nuclear weapons?” Absent priming like this, a majority of Americans actually prefer diplomacy, 81% supporting direct talks between Washington and Tehran.
And don’t forget the military-industrial complex, for which the fear of a nuclear-armed Iran means opportunity. They use it to justify that perennial cash cow and Republican favorite: missile defense (which the Romney campaign dutifully promotes on its “Iran: An American Century” webpage). It gives the Pentagon a chance to ask for new bunker busting bombs and to justify the two new classes of pricey littoral combat ships.
If the U.S. were to bomb Iranian facilities -- and inevitably get drawn into a more prolonged conflict -- the cash spigot is likely to open full flood. And don’t forget the potential LOGCAP, construction, and private security contracts that might flow over the years (even if there isn’t an occupation) to the KBRs, SAICs, DynCorps, Halliburtons, Bechtels, Wackenhuts, Triple Canopies, and Blackwater/Academis of the world. (Too bad there aren’t meaningful transparency laws that would let us know how much these companies and their employees have contributed, directly or indirectly, to Romney's campaign or to the think tanks that pay and promote the convenient views of professional ideologues.)
The Problem With Romney
All of this means that the public has been primed for war with Iran. With constant media attention, the Republican candidates have driven home the notion that Iran has or will soon have nuclear weapons, that Iranian nukes present an immediate and existential threat to Israel and the U.S., and that diplomacy is for sissies. If Obama wins, he will have to work even harder to prevent war. If Romney wins, war will be all the easier. And for his team, that’s a good thing.
The problem with Romney, you see, is that he hangs out with the wrong crowd -- the regime-change brigade, many of whom steered the ship of state toward Iraq for George W. Bush. And keep in mind that he, like Romney (and Obama), was an empty vessel on foreign affairs when he entered the Oval Office. Even if Iran has been nothing more than a political tool for Romney, regime change is a deep-seated goal for the people around him. They actually want to bomb Iran. They’ve said so themselves.
Take Robert Kagan. His main perch is at the non-partisan Brookings Institution, but he has also been a leader of the neocon Project for a New American Century and its successor organization, the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI). “Regime change in Tehran,” he has written, “is the best nonproliferation policy.”
Kagan’s fellow directors at the FPI are also on Romney’s team: Bill Kristol, Eric Edelman (former staffer to Cheney and Douglas Feith’s successor at the Pentagon), and former Coalition Provisional Authority spokesman Dan Senor, who has become Romney’s most trusted foreign policy advisor and a rumored contender for national security advisor. The FPI’s position? “It is time to take military action against the Iranian government elements that support terrorism and its nuclear program. More diplomacy is not an adequate response.”
Or how about John Bolton, Bush’s U.N. ambassador and a frequent speaker on behalf of the MEK, who has said, “The better way to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons is to attack its nuclear weapons program directly and break their control over the nuclear fuel cycle,” and that “we should be prepared to take down the regime in Tehran.”
And the list goes on.
It is, of course, theoretically possible that a President Romney would ignore his neocon team’s advice, just as George W. Bush famously ignored the moderate Republican advice of his father’s team. Still, it’s hard to imagine him giving the cold shoulder to the sages of the previous administration: Cheney, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. Indeed, Romney is said to turn to the “Cheney-ites” when he seeks counsel, while giving the more moderate Republican internationalists the cold shoulder. And Cheney wanted to bomb Iran.
In a Romney administration, expect this gang to lobby him hard to finish the job and take out Iran’s nuclear facilities, or at least to give Israel the green light to do so. Expect them to close their eyes to what we have learned in Iraq and Afghanistan when it comes to “blood and treasure.” Expect them to say that bombing alone will do the trick “surgically.” Expect them to claim that the military high command is “soft,” “bureaucratic,” and “risk-averse” when it hesitates to get involved in what will inevitably become a regional nightmare. Expect the message to be: this time we’ll get it right.
Kenneling the Dogs of War
No one likes the idea of Iran getting nukes, but should the regime decide to pursue them, they don’t present an existential threat to anyone. Tehran’s leaders know that a mushroom cloud in Tel Aviv, no less Washington, would turn their country into a parking lot.
Should the mullahs ever pursue nuclear weapons again, it would be for deterrence, for the ability to stand up to the United States and say, “Piss off.” While that might present a challenge for American foreign policy interests -- especially those related to oil -- it has nothing to do with the physical safety of Israel or the United States.
War with Iran is an incredibly bad idea, yet it’s a real threat. President Obama has come close to teeing it up. Even talk of a preemptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities is delusional, because, as just about every analyst points out, we wouldn’t know if it had worked (which it probably wouldn’t) and it would be an act of war that Iran wouldn’t absorb with a smile. In its wake, a lot of people would be likely to die.
But Romney’s guys don’t think it’s a bad idea. They think it’s a good one, and they are ready to take a swing.