On Sunday, Republican presidential candidate former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney wrongfully attacked President Barack Obama’s work to stop Iran and speech to AIPAC by continuing to promote outrageous myths about the President’s record. In response to his over-the-top claims, The Washington Post’s fact checker Glenn Kessler awarded Romney two Pinocchios for his statements that, once again, put partisanship ahead of the security of the United States and Israel.
Kessler examined Romney’s talking points on Obama’s Iran record and found that the points were missing important context, specifically the fact that Obama’s earlier attempt at engagement ultimately made it easier to get Russia and China to support the early sanctions that were passed by the United Nations.
Kessler also rebutted Romney’s false claim regarding Obama and the use of force to stop Iran:
As for Romney’s complaint that Obama has failed to communicate that the military option is on the table, the president has certainly emphasized that possibility in recent days.
Romney on Sunday appeared to be responding to Obama’s speech before the annual policy conference of American Israel Public Affairs Committee. But this is what Obama said at AIPAC:
“When it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, I will take no options off the table, and I mean what I say. That includes all elements of American power: A political effort aimed at isolating Iran; a diplomatic effort to sustain our coalition and ensure that the Iranian program is monitored; an economic effort that imposes crippling sanctions; and, yes, a military effort to be prepared for any contingency.”
And last week, this is what Obama told Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic magazine:
“I think that the Israeli government recognizes that, as president of the United States, I don’t bluff. I also don’t, as a matter of sound policy, go around advertising exactly what our intentions are. But I think both the Iranian and the Israeli governments recognize that when the United States says it is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, we mean what we say.”...
Interestingly, a military strike was never seriously considered during Bush’s administration, according to the memoirs of senior officials. Bush administration officials also discouraged the Israelis from taking action….
[T]he Bush administration gave lip service to the idea of a military option but only as a point of leverage to enhance its diplomacy. Obama, as far as we can tell, has now made a more explicit statement-‘I don’t bluff’- on the military option than Bush ever did, so perhaps the calculation has changed with the passage of four years.
The Pinocchio Test
As we have noted before, it is difficult to fact check claims about feckless foreign policy performance. Certainly, though, Romney’s prediction about Iran getting a nuclear weapon if Obama is reelected falls into the category of ‘silly-hyperbolic campaign rhetoric.’
Moreover, Romney’s critique of Obama’s handling of Iran is missing important context, even by the standards of campaign fare. Sanctions on Iran have become robust and Tehran is more internationally isolated since Obama took office, in part with the help of Congress, even if the ultimate goal of ending Iran’s nuclear ambitions has not yet been achieved. Meanwhile, the military option is a grave choice - one that Obama’s predecessor never seriously considered.
The New York Times also noted the similarities between Obama and Romney’s positions on Iran—and that Romney’s attacks are rooted in political motivations:
To rein in Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, Mitt Romney says he would conduct naval exercises in the Persian Gulf to remind Iran of American military might. He would try to ratchet up Security Council sanctions on Iran, targeting its Revolutionary Guards, and the country’s central bank and other financial institutions. And if Russia and China do not go along, he says, the United States should team up with other willing governments to put such punitive measures in place.
As it turns out, that amounts to what President Obama is doing….
‘To be making a blanket statement that if he’s president they’ll have one, and if Romney’s president they won’t have one, is the most craven political thing to say,’ [Senator John Kerry (D-MA)] said. ‘To make up differences is to play in Iranian hands.’ Mr. Kerry said it could further drive up the price of oil, which helps Iran, as traders on world markets build in expectations of a military strike.
Though advisers to Mr. Romney say they see significant differences between his Iran policy and Mr. Obama’s, other Iran experts and former officials in Republican and Democratic administrations say they do not see how the Iran policies being espoused on the Republican presidential campaign trail would do much more to stop Tehran from getting a nuclear weapon. In the case of Mr. Romney, they said, his Iran policy is essentially Mr. Obama’s Iran policy.
‘They seem to talk more in the realm of their imagination, and what they think will pass as good policy in an election campaign, as opposed to taking into account the realities on the ground,’ said Abbas Milani, an Iran expert at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University who has advised the administrations of both Mr. Obama and President George W. Bush on Iran.
R. Nicholas Burns, the State Department’s top Iran negotiator under President Bush, said: ‘The attacks on Obama basically say, “He’s weak and we’re strong.” But when you look at the specifics, you don’t see any difference.’
For instance, Mr. Romney’s Iran issues statement, available on his Web site, argues that to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, he would ‘repair relations with Israel, increase military coordination and assistance, and enhance intelligence sharing to ensure that our allied capabilities are robust and ready to deal with Iran.’ In addition, Mr. Romney calls for restoring the ‘regular presence of aircraft carrier task forces in both the Eastern Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf region simultaneously.’
But in recent years, the United States has always had one or two aircraft carrier strike groups deployed in the Persian Gulf region at a time ... American carriers do routinely transit the Mediterranean via the Suez Canal ... There are also a number of American destroyers and cruisers regularly deployed to the Mediterranean.
As for assistance to Israel ... the United States remains Israel’s most dependable ally. Last year, Mr. Obama drew global criticism when he opposed a Palestinian bid for statehood through the Security Council, and his administration boycotted a racism conference in Durban in 2009 on the grounds that it allowed anti-Semitic and Holocaust-denial views. Mr. Obama has also increased military aid to Israel and promoted sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program, with Europe agreeing to impose an oil embargo on Iran, a step unthinkable four years ago.
In addition, former Mossad Director Efraim Halevy slammed Romney’s op-ed in The Washington Post yesterday that also placed partisanship above stopping Iran:
A former head of Israel’s intelligence service, in an interview with The Huffington Post, slammed a recent op-ed by Mitt Romney as causing “serious issues” for the effort to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.
Efraim Halevy, who was the director of the Mossad in the early 2000s and later the head of Israel’s National Security Council, told HuffPost that by forecasting his military intentions—and claiming that Obama would not act in the same way—Romney is effectively ‘telling the Iranians, “You better be quick about it.’”
‘If I’m sitting here in the month of March 2012 reading this, and I’m an Iranian leader, what do I understand? I have nine more months to run as fast as I can because this is going to be terrible if the other guys get in,’ Halevy said….
‘This means to an Iranian, if you will wait until another few months and there is a change in the White House, then maybe there will be trouble, so the lesson is, Let’s redouble our efforts to do it as quickly as we can,’ Halevy said. ‘In the effort to demolish the president he is making the situation worse.’...
‘I think people have to be extremely careful with the way they speak,’ he added. ‘I don’t have any bones about who wins the election, but what Romney has done is a serious problem here. It causes serious issues here.’
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) also took Romney to task over his reckless comments. From the floor of the Senate, Kerry said:
Every candidate for the Oval Office has the right to criticize the President. But, particularly this week, while Prime Minster Netanyahu is in Washington meeting with the Administration to chart a path forward, we should all remember that the nuclear issue with Iran is deadly serious business that should invite sobriety and serious-minded solutions, not sloganeering and sound bites. This can’t become just another applause line on the Republican presidential stump. Talk has consequences, and 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. And to create false differences with the President just to score political points does nothing to move Iran off a dangerous nuclear course. Worst of all, Governor Romney’s op-ed does not even do readers the courtesy of describing how a President Romney would do anything different from what the Obama administration has already done…
When you add it all up, Mitt Romney is just trying to ignore, twist, and distort the Administration’s policy to drive a wedge in our politics.
Mr. President, let us be crystal clear: we must prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. That is why President Obama, even as he builds pressure for a diplomatic solution, keeps reiterating that all options are on the table. And he’s underscored that - as he said - “I don’t bluff.” And you can ask Osama bin Laden what he means when he says that. Mr. President, we’re going to have tough debates. We’re going to have a bruising election season. And so we should. That’s how we decide big issues in the United States. We always have. But let’s have an honest debate, not a contrived one. Governor Romney can debate the man in the White House instead of inventing straw men on the op-ed pages. He should be armed with facts instead of empty rhetoric. And if we are to succeed as the American people want us to in order to avoid a nuclear Iran, then at some point we must all act like statesmen, not candidates. We must be clear-eyed about what we have accomplished and what we have yet to do. That’s what Americans expect from their Commander in Chief, and they deserve no less.
Obama forcefully responded to criticisms similar to Romney’s during his press conference yesterday:
... [W]hat I have said is, is that we will not countenance Iran getting a nuclear weapon. My policy is not containment; my policy is to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon—because if they get a nuclear weapon that could trigger an arms race in the region, it would undermine our non-proliferation goals, it could potentially fall into the hands of terrorists. And we’ve been in close consultation with all our allies, including Israel, in moving this strategy forward.
At this stage, it is my belief that we have a window of opportunity where this can still be resolved diplomatically. That’s not just my view. That’s the view of our top intelligence officials; it’s the view of top Israeli intelligence officials. And, as a consequence, we are going to continue to apply the pressure…
That’s my track record. Now, what’s said on the campaign trail—those folks don’t have a lot of responsibilities. They’re not Commander-in-Chief. And when I see the casualness with which some of these folks talk about war, I’m reminded of the costs involved in war. I’m reminded that the decision that I have to make in terms of sending our young men and women into battle, and the impacts that has on their lives, the impact it has on our national security, the impact it has on our economy.
This is not a game. There’s nothing casual about it. And when I see some of these folks who have a lot of bluster and a lot of big talk, but when you actually ask them specifically what they would do, it turns out they repeat the things that we’ve been doing over the last three years, it indicates to me that that’s more about politics than actually trying to solve a difficult problem.
Now, the one thing that we have not done is we haven’t launched a war. If some of these folks think that it’s time to launch a war, they should say so. And they should explain to the American people exactly why they would do that and what the consequences would be. Everything else is just talk.
Click here to learn about Obama’s work to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
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