President Obama spoke over the weekend at the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, and spent a fair amount of time addressing "the issue that is such a focus for all of us today: Iran's nuclear program."
The relevant portion of the speech begins at about the 18:53 mark in this clip. Though Obama warned against the "loose talk of war," which only serves to benefit the Iranian government, the president also said Israel, the U.S. and "the entire world" have an "interest in preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon." Among other things, Obama warned of a regional "arms race in one of the world's most volatile regions."
The president added, "[T]hat is why, four years ago, I made a commitment to the American people, and said that we would use all elements of American power to pressure Iran and prevent it from acquiring a nuclear weapon. And that is what we have done.... Iran's leaders should understand that I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon."
And then Mitt Romney decided to weigh in.
Just hours after President Obama described to a group of pro-Israel activists the steps he has taken and will take to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, Mitt Romney made a dire prediction about the consequences for that effort if the president is reelected."If Barack Obama gets re-elected, Iran will have a nuclear weapon and the world will change if that's the case," Romney told a crowd of more than 1,500 in this suburb east of Atlanta. [...]"This president failed to speak out when the dissidents took the streets in Tehran, he had nothing to say," Romney said. "This is a president who has failed to put in place crippling sanctions against Iran. He's also failed to communicate that military options are on the table and in fact in our hand. And that it's unacceptable to America for Iran to have a nuclear weapon.
It's hard to know where to start with rhetoric like this. Obama didn't voice support for Iranian protesters because they didn't want U.S. backing; he did impose tough sanctions on Iran; the president specifically said, "I will take no options off the table," including military power; and Obama couldn't have been clearer about U.S. opposition to a nuclear Iran.
It's as if Romney heard the speech, and decided to tell voters the opposite of the truth.
But there's even more to this than Romney's deliberate efforts to deceive the public. Indeed, the Republican's remarks speak to two larger themes: fear and ignorance.
On the first point, Romney seems to be of the opinion that scaring the bejesus out of voters will translate into GOP votes. Notice the lack of ambiguity in Romney's rhetoric: Obama's election will practically guarantee an Iranian nuclear weapon.
And what does Romney base this categorical statement on? Nothing. He simply asserts it as true, without any facts or evidence. Romney does so because he's hoping voters will simply be so terrified by the prospect, they'll come rushing into the arms of an inexperienced one-term governor whose only international experience is opening Swiss bank accounts and stashing cash in the Caymans.
On the latter point, I still don't know why, when it comes to foreign policy and national security, Romney thinks he's ready to sit at the big kids' table.
His bravado over the weekend notwithstanding, Romney doesn't seem to understand U.S. policy in Iran at all. When he talked about his position at a debate in November, a bipartisan panel on msnbc's "Morning Joe" literally laughed at him. BBC's Katty Kay said at the time she was "disappointed" by Romney’s remarks on Iran, because she thought he'd have "a more sophisticated understanding" of the issue.
Remember, this is the same candidate who is under the false impression that there are "insurgents" in Iran.
And it's not just Iran. Romney's own advisors think he's wrong about Afghanistan; he was recently found flip-flopping on Iraq; he couldn't answer a question about an al Qaeda affiliate, Al Shabab, controlling significant territory in Somalia; and his call for a trade war with China is nuts.
Worse, Romney has struggled in this area for quite some time.
Remember the time Romney told ABC News he would "set a deadline for bringing the troops home" from Iraq -- but only if it's a secret deadline? How about the time Romney, more than four years into the war in Iraq, said it's "entirely possible" that Saddam Hussein hid weapons of mass destruction in Syria prior to the 2003 invasion? Or the time Romney pretended "Hezbollah and Hamas and al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood" were all the same thing? How about my personal favorite: the time Romney made the bizarre assertion that IAEA weapons inspectors were not allowed entry into Saddam Hussein's Iraq?
More recently, Romney tried to trash the New START nuclear treaty in an op-ed, prompting Fred Kaplan to respond, "In 35 years of following debates over nuclear arms control, I have never seen anything quite as shabby, misleading and -- let's not mince words -- thoroughly ignorant as Mitt Romney's attack on the New START treaty."
He's even picked a fight over President Obama's strike on Osama bin Laden, ignoring the fact that Romney took an entirely passive attitude towards the al Qaeda leader, saying "it's not worth moving heaven and earth" to get the terrorist responsible for 9/11. Around the same time, Romney said he would not order a strike into Pakistan to get bin Laden, rejecting Obama's willingness "to enter an ally of ours" to target the terrorist leader.
There have to be other issues for Romney to focus his attention on.