On a campaign call just ahead of Vice President Joe Biden’s foreign policy speech today, top foreign policy advisers to presumtive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney attacked the Obama administration’s Iran policy. While emphatically denying that the Romney campaign was threatening Iran with an attack, his advisers Dan Senor and Alex Wong admonished the administration for an honest discourse about what the potential consequences of an attack would be.
Asked by a reporter about Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s comments last week that the Obama administration-led U.N. sanctions program on Iran have been “effective,” the Romney advisers said:
DAN SENOR: (T)he administration has gone out of its way to convey that the military option is not serious. I mean, just look at the things Secretary [of Defense Leon] Panetta has said over the last year, whether it was at the Halifax conference, whether it was the Saban conference at Brookings… He went out of his way to talk about how disastrous military action against Iran would be for the United States, for the global economy, for the region. …
ALEX WONG: The administration has repeatedly talked down the military option and the effectiveness and the (inaudible) of the military option by the united states and Israel.
Listen to a clip of the call here:
Romney’s advisers offer, at best, misleading interpretations of Obama administration policies and statements; at worst, they make claims unsupported by the facts. For example, far from “project[ing] to the world that the military option against Iran is off the table,” Obama has said again and again that all options remain “on the table” to deal with a potential Iranian nuclear weapons program. A potential Iranian nuclear weapon is widely considered a threat to both the security of the U.S. and its allies in the region, and the nuclear non-proliferation regime, though U.S. and Israeli intelligence have not concluded that Iran has made a decision to pursue a weapon.
Senor says that Panetta disavowed the military option at his speech to the Brookings Institution. In reality, he did the opposite: “The president has made it very clear that we have not taken any options off the table.” Senor’s harping on Panetta misfired in other ways. It was not Panetta but his predecessor Robert Gates who said a war with Iran would be “disastrous” — but Gates made those comments when he was serving in the Bush administration in 2008.
Panetta has, however, warned of potential consequences of an attack — precisely those factors that lead the administration to pursue, for the meantime, a pressure track aimed at a negotiated resolution of the Iranian nuclear crisis. “There are going to be economic consequences to that, that could impact not just on our economy but the world economy,” he said last November. Indeed, business leaders and other experts have discussed potential economic consequences of an attack.
Rather than “talk[ing] down,” as Wong put it, a military attack on Iran, these leaders and experts are merely doing what a good democracy should: having an honest discourse about what an attack would mean. Former top Israeli security officials, for example, have discussed the risks of a regional war, a “devastating impact,” and the possibility that an attack would only delay Iran’s nuclear program. As Obama himself said:
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.
Senor’s role in burying potential consequences of a war should not be taken lightly. He was a senior adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority that ruled Iraq in the early days after the invasion. According to Rajiv Chandrasekaran, then of the Washington Post, Senor once said: “Well, off the record, Paris is burning. But on the record, security and stability are returning to Iraq.” Senor also had other roles in propagating a rose-tinted picture of Iraq — in line with the “cakewalk” the Bush administration had falsely promised — even as the country descended to a civil war.
Senor said twice on the call that the Romney campaign is “not suggesting the military option should be used.” As Biden eventually said in his speech today, “Governor Romney has called for what he calls a ‘very different policy’ on Iran. But for the life of me it’s hard to understand what the governor means by a very different policy.”