Rattling sabers is bombast to undercut president

Published 10:15 pm Saturday, March 24, 2012

“One of the most horrible features of war is that all the war-propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting.” — George Orwell

But warmongering is good politics. It appeals to patriotism, fear, nativism, fear, wannabe warriorism, fear, panic and, yes, fear. War (whether threat or execution) elects presidents. Rattle the saber outside the polling booth, and the voters will tremble inside it.

It’s a tried-and-true political strategy. Last time around it was Iraq; now it’s Iran.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

In a cynical appeal to Jewish voters and the saber-rattlers, the Republican presidential candidates have taken a playground “oh, yeah” approach to Iran, offering simplistic, bombastic solutions to a complex issue.

Former Sen. Rick Santorum said the United States should give a “clear ultimatum” to Iran, demanding Iran dismantle its nuclear facilities — which the Iranians claim are being used exclusively for energy production. If Iran failed to comply, Santorum said, the U.S. should go in “and tear them down ourselves.” How we can ascertain or force compliance? How we can “tear down” these facilities without igniting a major war — either World War III or just our third in 10 years? On all the necessary details, Santorum was silent.

Santorum can’t be bothered with details, and former Gov. Mitt Romney can’t be bothered with facts.

Romney boasted he would place our battleships (number unspecified) off the shores of Iran. Yeah, that’ll stabilize the situation — not. During a Republican debate in South Carolina, Romney said, “If we re-elect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon. … And if you elect Mitt Romney, Iran will not.”

On Super Tuesday, Romney published an op-ed piece in the Washington Post, which foreign policy analysts saw as mostly a re-hash of Obama’s policy on Iran. And as The Financial Times headlined, “Romney’s Iran Policy Would Cripple the Economy.” Apparently, Romney’s bravado is more important than American jobs. (Is that news?)

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, meanwhile, looks for red lines in shifting sands, declaring, “The red line is now because the Iranians now are deepening their fortifications, deepening their underground laboratories, deepening their commitment to nuclear weapons while we talk.” Iran has crossed Gingrich’s red line — and that means war!

Only U.S. Rep. Ron Paul told voters that fear of Iran having a nuclear weapon is “overblown.” That prompted former GOP hopeful Rep. Michelle Bachmann to call him a “dangerous candidate.” Of course, Paul’s assessment agrees with that of our intelligence services.

There’s something Pavlovian about Republican candidates and war. Conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks discussed the Republican candidates’ positions on Iran with syndicated columnist Mark Shields the night before the Iowa caucuses. Brooks said: “The Republicans just — they can’t stop themselves. They just start rattling sabers. They can’t do it quickly enough. They don’t want to pay for it. They don’t want to be involved in it, but, boy, they love war.”

In his first press conference of 2012, President Obama echoed Brooks, though more bluntly:

“Those folks don’t have a lot of responsibilities. … They’re not commander-in-chief. When I see the casualness with which some of these folks talk about war, I’m reminded of the costs involved in war — for those who go into combat, for national security and for the economy. 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.”

Even Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a warning to his cabinet to hold their tongues and to stop their speculation about attacking Iran. Understandably, all this loose talk by politicians both in Israel and the United States — even men running for president — caused the Iranians great uncertainty and destabilized the situation.

Iran is a threat. Iran threatens its neighbors, threatens the economic stability of the world, and threatens to spread terror in unprecedented ways. Iran is an existential threat to Israel, a threat ironically made stronger by America’s unwarranted war in Iraq.

But bombing doesn’t always end a threat; sometimes war — or even just the threat of war — makes things worse.

President Obama knows the goal is to stabilize the region, guarantee Israel’s security and prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons. He also knows that achieving those goals requires a multilayered and multileveled approach. Obama has already prevented one confrontation: getting Iran to back down on its threat to close the Strait of Hormuz.

While Obama prefers a diplomatic resolution, or even economic sanctions, he’s shown he has the backbone to use force (i.e., Bin Laden) if necessary. Obama told AIPAC on Sunday that “all elements of American power” remain an option to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear power. Believe him.

(Donna Brazile is a senior Democratic strategist.)