Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Romney on Iran: The Dangerous Non-Policy of the Hollow Man

Iran Romney Nuclear Policy by Nomad

L
ast night’s third and final debate proved once again that the Republican presidential candidate Romney really has nothing new to offer in terms of foreign policy leadership. And when it comes to Iran, Romney demonstrated last night that he is really a hollow man.

His statements on Iran and how he would deal with this sticky problem are really fascinating, though not in a good way. If you listen to the things he said, they might sound impressive but actually upon a closer inspection, they are filled with peculiarities, political posturing and sparkling fluff.

Sanctions
It is also essential for us to understand what our mission is in Iran, and that is to dissuade Iran from having a nuclear weapon through peaceful and diplomatic means. And crippling sanctions are something I called for five years ago, when I was in Israel, speaking at the Herzliya Conference. I laid out seven steps, crippling sanctions were number one. And they do work. You're seeing it right now in the economy. It's absolutely the right thing to do, to have crippling sanctions. I would have put them in place earlier. But it's good that we have them.
So basically then he would do what the president is already doing. No change of policy but he would be happy to take credit for the results. Begun in the last two years of the Bush administration, the sanctions were expanded and strengthened under the Obama administration, according to the Christian Science Monitor "at a speed that has made current US sanctions policy on Iran the harshest in contemporary history. This leaves a potential new Romney administration with few policy alternatives."

The effects of the policy of sanctions that Obama has utilized is now clearly working and appear to be more successful in cutting the nation's oil production- its chief source of revenue. 

The graph at the left shows Iranian oil production  and imports crashing during the last year. 
The reasonable question is, of course, not whether the sanctions are working but whether they will change policy in Iran, or whether they will create such public discontent that the government will fall. 
The verdict on that theory is not being discussed. 

 In any case, as far as Romney's position, it boils down. I would do what Obama's done but I would do it louder and I would take credit for anybody else's success. 
Romney carried on in the same vein.
Number two, something I would add today is I would tighten those sanctions. I would say that ships that carry Iranian oil, can't come into our ports. I imagine the E.U. would agree with us as well. Not only ships couldn't, but I'd say companies that are moving their oil can't, people who are trading in their oil can't. I would tighten those sanctions further.
That’s a very interesting statement indeed. Are Iranian oil tankers coming into US ports? That would be a claim Romney should be willing to prove. In fact, as far as the EU, Romney appears to have been poorly briefed by his staff. 
On Monday- the day before the debate- European Union governments formally approved an embargo on Iranian oil to start next week. That EU ban was originally drafted in January. The credit therefore goes not Romney but to Obama for his quiet but persuasive diplomacy.

Also it should be noted that this tightening of sanctions by the EU came about, despite pleas from Greece which is on the verge of economic collapse and heavily dependent on Iranian oil. As I reported earlier, his other notable foreign policy statement revealed another insensitivity when it came to the Greece debt problem when Romney actually commended Greece- without actually naming the country- for spending 3% of its GDP on its military. Meanwhile, after years of over-spending, its citizens are rioting in the streets over the EU enforced austerity measures.

It took time to get the sanctions in place but sometime last year, the sanctions were beginning to have their desired effects. According to an 2011 article in National Geographic:
Worldwide concern over the threat has resulted in what now are the most severe sanctions in history against Iran. As of June 28, under legislation passed by the U.S. Congress in December, foreign financial institutions that do oil-purchase-related business with Iran's central bank are cut off from transactions with the U.S. banking system. The European Union, which accounted for 20 percent of Iran's oil exports, in late January approved an embargo against Iranian petrochemical products and crude oil that went into full force July 1.
In an especially effective measure, the EU sanctions also bar European insurance companies from providing coverage for vessels carrying Iranian oil products. South Korea, in the past two years the consumer of 10 percent of Iran's oil exports, became the first major Asian nation to join in the embargo, citing its inability to rely on European insurers. Some nations, including Iran's number one importer, China, are considering sovereign insurance, in which the importing government itself assumes the risk of shipping mishaps.
It is a very odd remark in other ways. Romney seems to advocating the punishment of nations who continue to import Iranian oil. (That would include Turkey, a critical ally in the region and a NATO member.) 

As the last Republican president failed to realize, real, meaningful diplomacy doesn’t actually work through threats and rewards. It requires careful and sensitive negotiations. It requires broad sensitivities to each nation’s particular situation. After all, not every country has the means to replace the imported oil at a price that will not wreck their economies.
But China, Japan, India, Singapore, Turkey, and about 15 other nations, though still importing from Iran, have reduced import levels, and as a result received waivers from the U.S. sanctions. Even before the full embargo went into effect, Iranian exports were down 40 percent.
Indictments
Another proposal Romney made in the debates was this:
Secondly, I'd take on diplomatic isolation efforts. I'd make sure that Ahmadinejad is indicted under the Genocide Convention. His words amount to genocide incitation. I would indict him for it. 
While Romney might sound tough, it is more bluff than tough. The Genocide Convention, (short for The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide) gives the legal basis for an indictment on the charge of inciting genocide. 

That convention had been in force since January  12,  1951 internationally before being ratified  by the United States Senate on February  19,  1986 and  signed the legislation into law on November 4,  1988 by Ronald Reagan. Even then, the US had some objections, namely the question of court jurisdiction. Historically, the United States and other permanent members of the UN Security Council, have been averse to intervening abroad solely to uphold the Genocide Convention. According to the Convention, cases in dispute would be referred to the The International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague. 

The United States has for decades had a love-hate relationship with the ICJ. In 1986, following a court ruling on a US covert war against Nicaragua, the US withdrew from compulsory jurisdiction. It now recognizes the court's jurisdiction on a case-by-case basis. 
In any case, any decision by the court is subject to the veto power of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. Lately, in the Syrian crisis, we have seen just how difficult a obstruction to action can be made by its members.  

So, despite Romney's tough talk in the debate, the president of the United States cannot dictate to the International Court of Justice any more than the Russian, Chinese or the Iranian president. Romney as the president could not indict anybody. True, he could call for an indictment but that’s about it. During the 1979 hostage crisis, the Iranian Republic simply ignored the case brought before the courts, citing extenuating circumstances. 

Actually, once again, what Romney has proposed is not at all original. The incitement of genocide charge against Ahmadinejad has already been discussed. In 2006, Israeli diplomats proposed to charge Ahmadinejad with direct and public incitement to genocide before the International Criminal Court. A year later, the US House of Representatives added its voice by passing a resolution which called upon the United Nations Security Council to charge Ahmadinejad. Despite similar stands taken by United Kingdom, Canada and Australia, that was the end of the story. 

And there’s a very good reason that it went no further than mere posturing. Like the United States, the Iranian Republic does not recognize the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. 
The likelihood that any indictment could be processed and judgement by the courts could actually be enforced is quite small. That is not to say that there is no case against the Iranian leader but it is much more complicated than Romney would lead the American public to believe. At best, an indictment against Ahmadinejad would have only symbolic value. What's the point of that? Most of the world has already been convinced that Iranian leadership- with its present policies- is a danger to security in the region. 

Besides, given the controversial- some say, criminal- actions of the past, do Republican neo-conservatives really have an appetite to charge other nations with genocide? After all, Article 2 of The Convention defines genocide as
...any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
With a far better case to be made against George W. Bush. I don’t think Romney really wants to go there. The more you look at the statement, the more ludicrous and empty it seems. 

Like A Pariah
Another interesting point to this comment was Romney’s mention of South Africa.  
I would also make sure that their diplomats are treated like the pariah they are around the world. The same way we treated the apartheid diplomats of South Africa.
A closer look at the history shows Romney’s complete detachment from reality. Justin Elliot writing for Salon explains:
Despite a growing international movement to topple apartheid in the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan maintained a close alliance with a South African government that was showing no signs of serious reform. And the Reagan administration demonized opponents of apartheid, most notably the African National Congress, as dangerous and pro-communist. Reagan even vetoed a bill to impose sanctions on South Africa, only to be overruled by Congress.
Remember that Romney has said he would show the same strength that Reagan displayed. It was, in fact Jimmy Carter- the president the neo-conservatives have deemed “the worst president” that imposed sanctions and restrictions on South Africa. And Carter made it clear where he stood on the morality of apartheid, criticizing the South African government many times. 
In contrast, Reagan’s policy was called “constructive engagement” which is precisely the policy that the neo-conservatives have called Obama’s weak foreign policy.
On a trip to the United States after winning the Nobel Prize in 1984, Bishop Desmond Tutu memorably declared that Reagan’s policy was ”immoral, evil and totally un-Christian.”
Bishop Tutu’s relationship with Reagan was cool. Before the House of Representatives in 1984, he called Reagan’s constructive engagement policy in South African, a farce.
After Reagan met with Tutu, he was asked at a press conference to talk about their meeting. Reagan said, “It is counterproductive for one country to splash itself all over the headlines, demanding that another government do something.”
Looking over Reagan’s style of foreign policy, that’s quite a jaw-dropping statement if you think about it. Of course, Reagan spent a lot of his term arguing with his own policy. 

The Last Resort
At the debate, Romney concluded his reply with this:
We need to increase pressure time, and time again on Iran because anything other than a -- a -- a solution to this, which says -- which stops this -- this nuclear folly of theirs, is unacceptable to America. And of course, a military action is the last resort. It is something one would only - only consider if all of the other avenues had been -- had been tried to their full extent.
As we have seen, Romney has offered nothing new and certainly nothing that can bring any diplomatic solution. But therein lies the true danger and deception of Mitt Romney’s foreign policy in Iran. While it is clear, the American public has no real taste for a military option to resolve the Iranian nuclear crisis. Supporting Israel in its defense is a different matter but a pre-preemptive strike against Iran is seen by many as not defensive but a destabilizing aggression.

Yet, from the Iranian authorities point of view, a military option is probably more desirable than the grinding burden of sanctions. Why? Because the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan. Mismanagement by the Bush administration in both cases has shown to the mullahs that the US cannot effectively manage a war or an occupation. Iran is far larger, in terms of population and land coverage. US forces are, they would imagine, exhausted. The mood of the American people is distinctly anti-war.. at least at the moment.
The leaders in Tehran are nothing if not pragmatic. A war against the West, or more precisely against the US and Israel, could serve to unite the people whereas crippling sanctions will produce quite the opposite effects. It is doubtful whether Romney- being advised by the same people who advised Bush- is actually capable of viewing the complexity of this chess game.

Romney has called the military option “the last resort” and yet he has shown pretty conclusively that he has nothing else to offer to solve the Iranian problem. In one hand, he offers a plan that he says isn't working and in the other hand, is the prospect of war. It is an old con used by fraudsters since time began. It is called “the bait and switch technique.” While saying he would pursue all options before launching a military strike, he has offered nothing actually new. 
As a former chief of Israel’s spy agency the Mossad, Efraim Halevy, pointed out a couple of days ago:
That is where I think the basic difference is between Romney and Obama. What Romney is doing is mortally destroying any chance of a resolution without war. Therefore when [he recently] said, he doesn’t think there should be a war with Iran, this does not ring true. It is not consistent with other things he has said.
As far as Romney bringing anything substantive to the discussion table last night,  the president might as well have been debating an empty chair.
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