A Question for Mr. Romney
In a recent interview with the Wall Street
Journal, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said something quite
interesting about Iran. One of the editors at the Journal asked him how
he would respond upon learning that President Bush had launched an attack on
Iran's nuclear facilities. He answered:
"I would hope that the president would have outlined a great deal of
information. I have very little information, for instance, on: How many nuclear
facilities are there? Where are they? Can we take them out? Can we not? What
is the capacity of the Iranian military to respond? Are our 160,000 troops in
Iraq safe, or are they going to get hit?" (Brian Carney, "Mitt
Romney: Consultant in Chief," Wall Street Journal, Nov. 10, 2007)
Brian Carney, the Journal editor who wrote the article, noted that
Romney always likes to ask such questions the way a consultant would: getting
a quick understanding of the situation in order to assess it. That's how Romney
made his substantial fortune as a business consultant. Carney and I would agree
that there's nothing wrong with that. It would be nice to have a president who
digs and probes. But do you notice two other questions missing? I do. These
are the two follow-up questions I would have asked Mr. Romney had I been one
of the interviewers:
Let's say you get your questions answered as follows. There are many nuclear
facilities and they're scattered around. But we can take 100 percent of them
out. The Iranian military has little capacity to respond. Let's assume, with
little justification, that our 160,000 troops in Iraq are safe. [Incidentally,
Mr. Romney, they're not safe. You might have heard that the U.S. is at war in
Iraq. War is unhealthy for soldiers and other living things.] Here's my first
question: Would you second Mr. Bush's decision to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities?
My second question: If you answer yes to the first question, why would you bomb
It's too bad that Romney apparently didn't answer my first question and that,
apparently, none of the Journal editors asked it. But they probably didn't
need to. The reason: almost everyone understands that, if Iran were found to
have nuclear weapons, virtually all of the Republican candidates, with the notable
exception of Ron Paul,
would support the U.S. government trying to eliminate them with bombs. Which
leads to the second, more fundamental, question: Why?
What if Iran Gets Nuclear Weapons?
More and more people seem to take it as given
that a nuclear-armed Iran would use its nuclear weapons to attack the United
States. Yet there is no plausible argument, and very little evidence, for that
First, we found out that we could co-exist with the Soviet Union, a country
with hundreds of times the number of nuclear weapons that Iran could ever hope
to have. How did we co-exist? Very simple. Our government made it clear that
if the Soviet Union attacked the United States with nuclear weapons, the U.S.
government would respond all-out against the Soviet Union with such weapons.
The so-called doctrine of mutual assured destruction (MAD), though it was mad
in a certain sense, worked. The Soviet Union never attacked us.
But, say the critics, Iran is different. They have all those mad mullahs over
there who don't care about life on earth and simply want to destroy – fill in
the blank – Israel, the United States, or Israel and the United States.
Yet there is little evidence that the leaders of Iran are mad. Instead, they
are cautiously conservative. Trita Parsi, the president of the National Iranian
American Council and adjunct professor of international relations at the Johns
Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, in his recent book, Treacherous
Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the U.S.,
states it as follows: "But whenever Iran's ideological and strategic goals
were at odds, Tehran's strategic imperatives prevailed." (p. 3) He notes
that the Iranian government has had informal alliances with Israel against the
major Arab nations in the Middle East. These alliances existed not only when
the shah was Iran's dictator, but also for much of the time the mullahs have
run Iran. Through the government of Switzerland, Iran's government made
an overture to the Bush administration in 2003, in which it asked the Bush
administration to meet Iranian officials to discuss ending the sanctions and
bringing Iran back into the community of nations, in return for Iran's forswearing
any attempt to build nuclear weapons. According to Parsi, the Bush administration,
at the behest of Vice President Cheney and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, rebuffed
them. Moreover, the Bush administration verbally
attacked Tim Guldimann, the Swiss ambassador to Iran, for being the bearer
of good news. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, incidentally, even though
she was President Bush's National Security Council director at the time, claims
to have no memory of this Iranian overture. Interestingly, Parsi quotes
none other than Efraim Halevi, the former head of the Mossad (Israel's version
of the CIA), saying of the Iranian government in 2006, "I don't think they
are irrational, I think they are very rational."
Ah, say the critics, but President Ahmadinejad
is a madman. Think about that term "madman." I've never seen that
term thrown around so loosely in my lifetime as in the years since 2001. "Saddam
Hussein is a madman." "Ahmadinejad is a madman." The neoconservatives
and others who make such charges rarely give evidence for it. They simply assert
that such people don't care if they live or die and are, therefore, willing
to do almost anything in pursuit of their goals. Notice that those same people
virtually never make the charge against evil dictators who are U.S. allies.
The best one-line refutation of this standard charge against foreign dictators
that the U.S. government dislikes is one that President Carter's secretary of
defense, Harold Brown, gave when discussing the Iranian hostage crisis. I recall
(although I could not find it on the Web) that when told that the Ayatollah
Khomeini didn't care whether he lived, Brown responded, "A man who makes
it to age 80 cares whether he lives."
We don't have to settle for Brown's one-liner. We can also look at the facts.
It's true that Ahmadinejad denied the Holocaust. But, as Parsi pointed out in
Treacherous Alliance, Iran's "Supreme Guide," the Ayatollah
Khamenei, forbade all Iranian officials from denying the Holocaust, a fact that
frustrated Ahmadinejad. As a result, when Ahmadinejad visited New York in September
2006, he refused to repeat his remark. Moreover, denying obvious facts is hardly
a sign of madness; the more straightforward explanation is that Ahmadinejad
is a bald-faced liar. How about Ahmadinejad's famous statement that he wanted
to wipe Israel off the map? Here's the problem: he didn't say it. You read that
right. The famous line that has become the one-line argument for bombing Iran
has been stated incorrectly – again and again. Repetition of a false charge
doesn't make it true. I'm not an expert in Farsi, but notice what Ahmadinejad
ghoft een rezhim-e ishghalgar-e qods bayad az safheh-ye ruzgar mahv shavad."
What does the word rezhim-e sound like to you? It turns out that it means
what he was saying was that the Zionist regime should be eliminated. This
is not at all the same as proposing that a country be wiped out. Democrats want
the Bush "regime" eliminated, and Republicans wanted Bill Clinton's
"regime" eliminated. In fact, some of Israel's Jews, as well as a
sizable fraction of American Jews, want the Zionist regime eliminated. Believe
it or not, there are Jews in the world who believe in religious freedom. This
hardly qualifies them as madmen or madwomen.
Moreover, even if Ahmadinejad were mad – and there is no evidence that he is
– the position of president in Iran is not like the position of president in
the United States. Most
of the power resides with a Muslim oligarchy and with the "Supreme Guide,"
which is why the "Supreme Guide" had the power to tell Ahmadinejad
to shut up when it came to talking about the Holocaust. The position of president
there is like the position of vice president in the United States, or at least
the position of vice president before Dick Cheney.
What about the danger that if Iran develops nuclear weapons, it will turn them
over to terrorists? Why would the Iranian government want to do that? The government
would give up a lot of power in return for – what? Moreover, as Parsi points
out (p. 271), the Israeli government has made it clear that if Israel is nuked,
then, no matter who did it, the Israeli government will hit Iran, using, if
necessary, its second-strike capability from one or more of its three nuclear-armed
submarines (p. 270). Finally, notes Parsi, even if this deterrent did not exist,
Iran wants terrorist groups as proxies, and if they acquired nuclear weapons,
they would cease to be proxies. Whatever their motivation, people who have power
are almost never willing to give it away.
George Orwell pointed out in his novel 1984 that when governments want
to have power over us, they come up with threats to scare us. If they scare
us enough, then they can grab power. The Democrats do this with global warming,
with the goal of having more power over our daily lives. The Republicans, since
9/11, have tried to scare us by exaggerating by a few orders of magnitude the
threat of terrorist attacks and nuclear-armed governments run by madmen. This
is the stuff of novels, and not very good novels at that. The best way to combat
this nonsense is to get knowledge and to confront the propagandists at every
Meanwhile, there is no good reason to attack Iran. Indeed, for the U.S. government
to attack a country that has not attacked us and isn't even threatening to do
so would be to commit an immoral, and probably illegal, act. But that's another
Copyright © 2007 by David R. Henderson. Requests for permission to
reprint should be directed to the author or Antiwar.com.