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Obama, Romney Are Reckless on Iran


You will strain your eyes looking for a significant difference between President Obama’s and Mitt Romney’s positions on Iran and the prospects of an Israeli attack on the Islamic republic. Both say “all options are on the table.” All. That includes a full-scale military attack with even nuclear weapons. This isn’t alarmism. Iran’s facilities are undoubtedly well protected. No light force would be capable of taking them out.

The Romney campaign created a stir recently when a key foreign-policy adviser, Dan Senor, seemed to up the ante by saying, “If Israel has to take action on its own, in order to stop Iran from developing that [nuclear weapons] capability, the governor would respect that decision.” The remark apparently went too far, because Romney had to clarify his position. “I respect the right of Israel to defend itself,” he told CBS. But “because I’m on foreign soil, I don’t want to be creating new foreign policy for my country or in any way to distance myself from the foreign policy of our nation.”

This indicates that Senor said nothing that Romney wishes to disavow. Senor just said it in the wrong place — on foreign soil. Americans have this foolish rule that “politics stops at the water’s edge.” But as the classical-liberal critic of foreign intervention Felix Morley once said, politics stops at the water’s edge only when policy stops at the water’s edge — which, for the American empire, it does not.

Romney might differ from Obama over where to paint the red line that Iran may not cross. Obama says Iran must not be allowed to possess a nuclear weapon. Romney and his old friend Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu say Iran must not be allowed to possess a nuclear capability. That would include possession of uranium and the relevant knowledge. Iran has crossed that line already. Hence the Romney-Netanyahu position sounds marginally more hawkish, though the real difference may not be terribly large.

Also, Obama has pleaded with Israel to give economic sanctions against Iran time to work, but Netanyahu said recently he sees no hope in their working. He appears to be itching for war. On the other hand, he doesn’t have full support from his military and security establishment. Prominent Israeli officials, active and retired, have said that Iran has not decided to build a weapon and that war with Iran would be “stupid.” Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Iran would not attack Israel even if it acquired a nuke. It may well be that the war talk is for domestic consumption or is part of a good-cop/bad-cop strategy with the American government.

In some ways it doesn’t matter. In the past, games of diplomatic chicken have ended in wars no one wanted, and it could happen again. Obama, Romney, and Netanyahu should realize how reckless their course is, though of course they bear no personal risk.

Iran justifiably feels besieged. Economic sanctions against the country, which were recently intensified by Obama and Congress, constitute warfare under international law. Moreover, the U.S. and Israeli governments are conducting covert operations against Iran. In other words, the United States and Israel are already at war with the Iranian people. Great hardship is imposed on them, because their ability to trade for consumer goods has been disrupted and the value of their currency undermined. It’s bizarre that every time the Iranian government says it is prepared to defend itself from attack, it is accused of threatening others. Who’s threatening whom?

This is where the policy imposed by the humane Obama and supported by Romney has brought the world.

And why? They will tell you that Iran must not have a nuclear weapon. But there is no evidence that Iran is developing one. Its religious leader has forsworn such weapons, and the country’s uranium is under the close watch of the International Atomic Energy Agency; that is more than one can say about Israel, which has hundreds of nukes and refuses to join Iran in signing the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

War with Iran would be a disaster for everyone except the war profiteers. Preventing it must be a priority.

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    Sheldon Richman is former vice president and editor at The Future of Freedom Foundation and editor of FFF's monthly journal, Future of Freedom. For 15 years he was editor of The Freeman, published by the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington, New York. He is the author of FFF's award-winning book Separating School & State: How to Liberate America's Families; Your Money or Your Life: Why We Must Abolish the Income Tax; and Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State. Calling for the abolition, not the reform, of public schooling. Separating School & State has become a landmark book in both libertarian and educational circles. In his column in the Financial Times, Michael Prowse wrote: "I recommend a subversive tract, Separating School & State by Sheldon Richman of the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank... . I also think that Mr. Richman is right to fear that state education undermines personal responsibility..." Sheldon's articles on economic policy, education, civil liberties, American history, foreign policy, and the Middle East have appeared in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, American Scholar, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Washington Times, The American Conservative, Insight, Cato Policy Report, Journal of Economic Development, The Freeman, The World & I, Reason, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Middle East Policy, Liberty magazine, and other publications. He is a contributor to the The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. A former newspaper reporter and senior editor at the Cato Institute and the Institute for Humane Studies, Sheldon is a graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia. He blogs at Free Association. Send him e-mail.