Romney, the Bomb, and Iran

Today Mitt Romney opined on “How I would check Iran’s nuclear ambition.”1 It runs for about ten paragraphs and only five of them actually contain actual foreign policy recommendations or proposed actions. The opinion piece begins with 5 and half paragraphs primarily talking about how hot-shit President Reagan was and how he showed the Iranians who their daddy was. Sprinkled throughout these introductory paragraphs he also discusses the potential nightmare of terrorists having a nuke and how much Iran hates Israel. Finally, he gets around to stating that President Obama isn’t doing enough to stop Iran’s wish to acquire a nuke.

What Romney says he will do differently is that A) he would increase the US’ annual shipbuilding rate from 9 to 15 to reestablish US dominance of the seas; B) “Press forward” with ballistic defense systems to ensure Iranian and North Korean nukes can’t threaten us or our allies; C) Continue and tighten international sanctions against Iran; D) Inform Iran that the US will use its military if diplomacy doesn’t work; and E) “restoring the regular presence” of aircraft carrier groups in the eastern Med and Persian Gulf.

Prior to comparing these proposed policy options with present US foreign policy let’s first ask a simple question: Why do countries like Iran seek the bomb? I would think any serious attempt to deal with a national security issue would begin with the question of why it is an issue. Obviously, national security experts and policymakers know why countries attempt to join the nuclear club, but if we are going to have opinion pieces by presidential candidates and discuss their proposed foreign policy plans, then it probably helps to take a look at the roots of the issue.

“Force de frappe” is the idea that the mere possession of a nuclear arsenal ensures deterrence, and the proliferation of nuclear weapons would ensure international stability.  Mutually assured destruction (MAD), theoretically, works in all security environments and the Cold War is an example of this. If you have the bomb and your enemy has the bomb, then you will work extra hard not to bomb the shit out of each other is this line of thinking. One of the main points countering this is the idea of a weak state possessing the bomb and not being able to control its arsenal. That arsenal falling into suicidal hands is a big worry.

Nuclear powers are treated differently and having a nuclear armed nation in your region is an understandable reason to seek the bomb. Israel, though undeclared, possess nukes and logic would state that, within the realm of regional politics, Iran is attempting to maintain balance. If you have a nuke, countries like America treat you differently and who doesn’t want to be treated special by America. Young phenoms want to get out of Triple A ball and get to the MLB, thus aspiring nations want to climb the power tier in the international arena. Powerful nations do what they want, weak nations do what they must.

Now having slightly discussed why there is a desire to acquire nukes, let’s now look at Romney’s foreign policy as espoused in today’s Washington Post op-ed piece.

Increase the US’ annual shipbuilding rate from 9 to 15 to reestablish US dominance of the seas

In June 2011, the Congressional Budget Office reported that the cost of the Navy’s FY2012 30-year shipbuilding plan would cost about $18 billion per year and is 16% more than the US Navy claims. Basically, the cost building more ships more quickly is a sticky widget that counters arguments of reducing the deficit. The use of “reestablish” is the word that doesn’t make sense in the above comment. A better word may have been “maintain.” Research shows that no one questions US dominance of the seas today, but there is a fear that the future may be one where the US doesn’t have the naval might to maintain the freedom of the waves. But since this is a policy op-ed and would seem to be based on facts, one has to wonder if the US doesn’t have it now or does Romney mean that we may lose it in the future. Here is an analytical piece on how the US gained control of the world’s oceans how it may be able to maintain that control. Additionally, this “proposal” does nothing to address the current situation with Iran attempting to acquiring nukes. This is a long-term strategic goal.

– “Press forward” with ballistic defense systems to ensure Iranian and North Korean nukes can’t threaten us or our allies

The Department of Defense’s Missile Defense Agency is responsible for ballistic defense. The FY2013 Defense Spending Request Briefing Book identifies numerous ballistic defense expenditures. Specifically, it states that it will continue to test the Sea-Based X-band Radar which is an element of the Ballistic Missile Defense System, and President Obama’s Administration is requesting $11.6 million for research and development for new ballistic missiles. As with the funding required for building ships, it is also important to note that things like ballistic missile defense cost money. I believe Romney is stating that he would do exactly what the present Administration is doing and that is figuring out national security priorities and attempting to balance finite resources with tons of security needs. By pressing forward, Romney is stating he would do exactly what is happening now. As with the ship building proposal, this is not a proposal that addresses the current situation. This is a future strategic goal.

Continue and tighten international sanctions against Iran

Again, nothing new because this is exactly what President Obama has stated. Type in the phrase “Obama tighten sanctions on Iran” and you will see a plethora of sources emphasizing how the present course of the US is to “continue and tighten international sanctions against Iran.” There are also reports that these sanctions are working.2 This foreign policy proposal is actually an endorsement of the President Obama’s foreign policy toward Iran.

– Inform Iran that the US will use its military if diplomacy doesn’t work

President Obama affirmed, in front of the AIPAC 2012 conference that all “elements of national power” including military action would be used to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Because of today’s technology, I am pretty sure that is a significant way to “inform Iran that the US will use its military if diplomacy doesn’t work.” Romney, again, is confirming and supporting present US foreign policy.

– “restoring the regular presence” of aircraft carrier groups in the eastern Med and Persian Gulf

As of January 12, 2012, the US Navy has dispatched a third aircraft carrier strike group to the Persian Gulf. Here is a historical piece (related to Gulf War I) on US Navy presence in the Persian Gulf… basically we always have a presence in the region. Some have even called the presence of US Navy ships in the Persian Gulf as “standard.” Romney, in his final proposal reiterates present policy under the Obama Administration and the Presidents before him.

Regardless of my views on Iran’s attempt to acquire a nuclear weapon, I expect a leading GOP candidate to provide some sort of way to distinguish himself from the President he is competing with in the presidential election season. I wasted 5 minutes of my life reading this uninformed and unimpressive op-ed, and now I have further wasted my time by opining on it. Move along people, nothing new to see here.

1. First, I bet he didn’t write it but that is moot. Second, that title is not very catchy. “How I would make Iran my bitch” would have been better and gotten a bigger readership. Mitt Romney (doubtful), “How I would check Iran’s nuclear ambition,” Washington Post, March 6, 2012, p. A17.

2. Steven Mufson and Joby Warrick, “Noose tightens around Iran oil,” Washington Post, March 6, 2012, p. A10.

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