Mitt Romney had a barnburner of a weekend in Israel. The GOP nominee apparent shared his unique combination of economic and anthropological wisdom, attributing the fact that Israel's GDP and average income is many times higher than those of the Palestinian Occupied Territories to Israelis' superior "culture." And, eschewing "containment" (read: "diplomacy"), he endorsed a preemptive Israeli military strike against Iran in order to prevent the latter's nuclear program—Israel's own, illegal nuclear weapons stockpile is OK because it's a U.S. ally—from further progressing.
"We have a solemn duty and a moral imperative to deny Iran's leaders the means to follow through on their malevolent intentions," Romney said, stating that "no option should be excluded."
He didn't say how he knew the intentions of Iran's leaders.
Though Romney slightly walked back his campaign's sabre rattling, the message was clear. If he is elected, Israel will receive a blank check to begin a war against Iran, one of the most well-equipped military powers in the Middle East—a conflagration in which the United States might wind up getting directly involved. (In a subsequent interview he reiterated that "we have all options on the table. Those include military options.")
Most of the criticism of his statements focused on Romney's flouting of the traditional proscription against candidates questioning a sitting president's foreign policy while visiting foreign soil. Though, to be fair, the differences between his and President Obama's approach to Israel and Iran are tonal and minor.
As usual with the U.S. media, what is remarkable is what is going unsaid. Here we are, with the economy in shambles and the public worried sick about it, the electorate tired of 12 years of war against Afghanistan, as they were of the nine against Iraq, yet Romney—who could be president six months from now—is out ramping up tensions and increasing the odds of a brand-new, bigger-than-ever military misadventure.
Warmongering has gone mainstream. It's a given.
In a way, Romney's willingness to risk war against Iran is merely another example, like the car garage and dressage, of how clueless and out of touch he is. Most Americans oppose war with Iran. For that matter, the citizens of the country on whose behalf we'd be killing and dying, Israel, are also skeptical of bombing their relative neighbor.
Yet, even Romney's Democratic opponents give him a pass for Romney's tough-guy act on Iran.
The reason for the somnolent non-response is obvious: it's nothing new. Year after year, on one foreign crisis after another, American presidents repeatedly state some variation on the theme that war is always an option. You've heard it so often that you take it for granted.
But did you know that "keeping the military option on the table" is a violation of international law?
The United States is an original signatory of the United Nations Charter, which has the full force of U.S. law since it was ratified by the Senate in 1945. Article 51 allows military force only in self-defense, in response to an "armed attack." As Yale law and political science professor Bruce Ackerman wrote in The Los Angeles Times in March, international law generally allows preemptive strikes only in the case of "imminent threat."
In 1842, U.S. Secretary of State Daniel Webster wrote down what today remains the standard definition of "imminent”: the threat must be "instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means and no moment for deliberation." The enemy's troops have massed on your border. They have superior force. What must be done to stop them is evident. There's no time for diplomacy.
Iran's nuclear program doesn't come close to this definition, even from Israel's standpoint. Bruce Fein, deputy attorney general under Reagan, told Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting's Extra! Magazine: "It is nothing short of bizarre to claim, as the Obama Administration is doing, that the mere capability to make a bomb is justification for a preemptive attack. That's a recipe for perpetual war. Almost any country could have the capability to make a bomb. They are torturing the word 'imminent' to the point that it has no meaning."
By endorsing an Israeli attack against Iran at a time when there is no proof that Iran has nuclear weapons, intends to develop them, or use them if it does, Romney is going farther than Obama, who has engaged in back-channel diplomacy. Aggressive war hasn't been good for America's international image, the environment, our economy, or the millions who have died, mostly for causes that are now forgotten or regretted.
Unless we draw the line against reckless, irresponsible rhetoric like Romney's, it will go on forever.
Ted Rall is a columnist, cartoonist, author and independent war journalist. He is the winner of numerous awards and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. His new book is The Book of Obama: How We Got From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.