It was bound to happen.
After the etch-a-sketch success of his first debate, Mitt Romney tried to reinvent his entire foreign policy on Monday night by pretending that he had never spoken a belligerent word about Iran.
"It's essential for us to understand what our mission is in Iran," Romney said on stage, citing the need to stop Iran's nuclear program through "peaceful and diplomatic means".
"Of course military action is the last resort," he said. "It's something one would only consider if all other avenues were tried to the full extent."
Sadly for the Romney campaign, there is ample evidence of their candidate’s saber-rattling about Iran–and his accompanying critique that the president has been “weak” in his global effort to use sanctions and diplomacy to stop Tehran’s nuclear program.
Until Monday night, Romney’s position on Iran was far more aggressive than either President Obama or President Bush. Both Obama and Bush said they would not tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran.
Romney’s position has, until now, been even less tolerant. He, his advisers and his website, have all declared that they will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear capability. That is a much lower bar for military action than a weapon, even if 'capability' remains an ill-defined notion.
On the Romney campaign website, the first line of the GOP nominee’s policy says this: “Mitt Romney believes that it is unacceptable for Iran to possess nuclear weapons capability.”
And the first policy approach to dealing with this problem? “A credible military option,” says the Romney website, followed by “increasing sanctions.” Diplomacy is hard to find.
The only problem for Romney’s position is that, despite his attacks on President Obama, his policies are identical to his opponent’s. Romney’s credible military option includes moving a US aircraft carrier group to the eastern Mediterranean and Persian Gulf.
If he is elected president, he wouldn’t have to move anything because those aircraft carrier groups are already there under President Obama’s command.
In other ways, however, Romney is more than ready to turn the military option into reality.
Here is the GOP nominee talking to Fox News after Iran capture a US spy drone late last year: “He was extraordinarily weak and timid in a critical moment,” Romney said. “This will have severe implications for us, long term, and it was a terrible mistake on his part. I find it incomprehensible that he didn’t destroy it, or go get it. I think destroying it would have been a good deal easier. Destroy it immediately or go get it.”
Just to be clear: The only way to destroy or go get something on hostile foreign territory is with military force. That means clearing air defenses, and possibly inserting boots on the ground.
Beyond condemning Obama’s “terrible mistake” for not launching military strikes, Romney argued in a GOP debate at the same time (also hosted by Fox News), that the president was more likely to go to war because of diplomacy.
“Does timidity and weakness invite aggression on the part of other people? Absolutely,” he said on stage. “A strong America is the best ally peace has ever known. This is a president with – the spy drone being brought down, he says pretty please? A foreign policy based on pretty please? You have got to be kidding.”
‘Pretty please’ is, of course, another way of saying ‘diplomacy.’
And the diplomacy of the Obama administration, along with its European allies, has led to crushing sanctions on Tehran. Most recently, the sanctions have halved oil exports and triggered a collapse in the value of the Iranian currency, sparking widespread violence and protests.
Now those sanctions turn out to be policies that Romney advocated for five years ago, well before President Obama entered the Oval Office, while the former Massachusetts governor was running for president the first time around.