Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) isn’t exactly the most sophisticated observer of international politics. As such, he was treated to a crash course in foreign policy by the Romney campaign prior to his selection as the GOP Vice Presidential nominee. Now, one of Ryan’s key advisers during that briefing period is calling for congressional authorization for war with Iran.
Elliott Abrams, a former Bush Administration official who focuses on the Middle East, took to the pages of the Weekly Standard to argue that neither Iranians nor Israelis think the Obama administration is “serious” about attacking Iran, and that the only real way to convince them is having Congress vote for war:
In any event, the debate over a joint resolution will clarify who stands where. At the moment, no one is persuaded that the United States will use force to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. That situation worries Israelis and emboldens Iranians, not the outcome we want. A clear statement now that is backed by the nominees of both parties and elicits widespread support in Congress would demonstrate that, whatever the election results, American policy is set. That is the best (and may be the only) way to avoid an Israeli strike in the near future and the best (and may be the only) way to persuade Iran to negotiate seriously. And if we are unwilling as a nation to state that we will act to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, that conclusion should solidify support for what would then become the inevitable Israeli strike. A refusal by the White House to seek such a joint resolution would itself suggest that, while “all options are on the table,” the likelihood is that that is precisely where they will remain.
The weight of the evidence (according to the Pentagon and the U.N.) suggests that, far from emboldening Iran, the Obama administration’s diplomacy and sanctions policy has significantly slowed Iran’s nuclear policy relative to the baseline left by the Bush administration. Abrams’ claim that Iran is more likely to come to the table if threatened by war is also highly improbable, given that the specter of an American attack is one of the regime’s most effective tools for dealing with its domestic problems. Finally, the Obama administration has already taken a number of steps that credibly establish the possibility of an U.S. strike — having Congress authorize military force would likely add nothing to these steps other than lock the United States down a path that could result in a costly war.
Indeed, Romney appears to at least implicitly know this. He’s been unable to distinguish his Iran policy from Obama’s and has recently pushed back against the idea that Congress should authorize military force, arguing that the President is already legally empowered to launch strikes unilaterally. However, the fact that an adviser who played a key role in molding Ryan’s foreign policy views is defending dangerous brinksmanship raises serious questions about whether the Romney-Ryan policy might tilt hawkish once in office. Indeed, one commonality amongst the advising corps is a worrying willingness to casually advocate the use of American military force.
It’s also important to note that, Abrams’ distortions notwithstanding, President Obama has said Iran with a nuclear weapon poses a threat to regional and international security has made a “categorical statement” that his administration’s policy is preventing Iran from acquiring one. Western intelligence estimates give the West time to pursue a dual-track approach of building international pressure and using diplomacy to resolve the crisis. Questions about the efficacy and potential consequences of a strike have led U.S. officials to declare that diplomacy is the “best and most permanent way” to resolve the crisis.