Day: September 8, 2012

GOP critique: Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan

This is the second installment of a series responding to the Romney campaign’s list of failures in Obama’s foreign and national security policies.

Failure #1: No Results In Slowing Or Stopping Iran’s Nuclear Weapons Program

True:  Iran’s nuclear program has not stopped.  Iran is enriching uranium at an accelerating pace, albeit likely slower than whatever pace it would have managed without the Stuxnet virus, sanctions and other measures.  Romney claims Iran is “on the cusp of nuclear weapons capability.”  Assertions of this sort have been made many times in the past.  As of February, American officials believed Tehran had not made a decision to proceed to nuclear weapons.  You can be sure we’d have heard about it if the situation has changed.

Iran is certainly closer to nuclear weapons than four years ago, but what Mitt Romney would or could have done about it isn’t clear.  Certainly George W. Bush did nothing but threaten regime change, which likely redoubled Tehran’s determination.  We don’t know what Romney would do, as he has refused to say, but his critique of Obama suggests at a minimum the following:

  • No engagement with Iran.  The unproductive multilateral talks would presumably be ditched.
  • Support for the Green Movement and other efforts at regime change.
  • Stronger sanctions, including no waivers for importers of Iranian oil.
  • Stronger commitment to missile defense.
  • Talk up the effectiveness and advisability of military options in order to reestablish the credibility of the military threat.

The trouble with this approach is that it was tried under George W. Bush and failed.  That’s why Obama is trying something else.  We may well have to go back to an “axis of evil” approach to Iran, but insofar as it threatens regime change it risks accelerating Tehran’s push for nuclear weapons.  The Iranians regard nukes as a guarantee of regime survival, one that is needed more the greater the threat.

The notion that the military threat is necessarily more credible under Romney than under Bush is unconvincing.  Obama hasn’t been shy about using military force.  There is strong support across the political spectrum in the U.S. that Tehran not be permitted to get nuclear weapons.  Iran will need to reckon with a military threat after November 6 whoever wins the election.

Failure #2: Endangering Our Mission In Afghanistan And Weakening Our Relationship With Pakistan

While giving credit to Obama for killing Osama, the Republicans claim the President is planning a withdrawal from Afghanistan by a date certain, without regard to conditions on the ground.  This is at best inaccurate.  What is planned is the turnover of primary security responsibility to the Afghans and withdrawal of a substantial portion, but not all, U.S. troops. The Republicans further claim that these decisions were not only unwise but also politically motivated and make it harder to ensure “that Afghanistan never again becomes a launching pad for terror like it was on 9/11.”

I don’t give presidents demerits for politically motivated decisions.  Americans want out of Afghanistan.  Obama is giving them as close to that as he thinks prudent before the end of 2014.  Republicans complain that President Obama “has led our Afghan and Pakistani partners to doubt our resolve and hedge their bets rather than fully cooperate with us.”  If hedging their bets means building stronger Afghan security forces and reaching a political settlement with the Taliban that meets the key American red line–no return of al Qaeda to Afghanistan–we shouldn’t be too concerned.

The Republican complaint that Obama failed to ensure a clean Afghan presidential election in 2009 is patently spurious.  It was President Karzai’s responsibility to ensure a clean election.  It was ours to try to prevent a dirty one and recognize one when it happened, which is what Washington and allied capitals did.  The complicated story that ended in Karzai’s challenger, Abdullah, withdrawing would vitiate this Republican claim. Nor is it clear what Romney would do differently.

The Republicans also complain that the Obama administration is negotiating with the Taliban while they are killing U.S. troops and “know President Obama wants a deal more than they do.”  I don’t really know how much the Taliban want a deal.  Michael Semple, who knows about as much about Afghanistan and Pakistan as anyone on earth, believes that important elements of the Taliban do want a deal.  It would be criminally negligent for the administration not to try its best to negotiate an early end to the conflict.

It is true that Obama is responsible for frayed relations with both Afghanistan and Pakistan.  He has criticized Karzai, including for corruption as well as the election mess the Romney campaign points to, and conducted drone strikes inside Pakistan whenever the opportunity to kill al Qaeda militants presents itself.  Those moves aren’t going to make you friends in Kabul and Islamabad.  The Republicans attribute bad relations with Afghanistan and Pakistan to “the lack of resolute leadership from President Obama.”  It would be closer to the truth to attribute bad relations to his stalwart pursuit of U.S. interests in both places.

Next up:

Failure #3: “Unconscionable” Leaks Of Classified Counterterror Information From The White House That Have Been “Devastating”
Failure #4: “Devastating” Defense Cuts That Will Cede Our Status As A “Global Power”
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