As for Syria’s “measly 111 miles of coastline” — as it happens, the Iranians have already discovered it. Syria’s coastline is home to such fascinating ports as Tartous and Lattakia, which figure, for instance, in a June, 2012 report by the United Nations panel of experts on Iran sanctions, in the context of alleged Iranian-origin maritime weapons shipments to Syria. Tartous is home to a naval base of Iran’s protector-in-proliferation, Russia, and locale for such stories as AlJazeera’s dispatch this past February, citing Iran state media: “Iran warships ‘dock in Syria’s Tartous port.’” And last year, for the first time since Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution, two Iranian navy ships docked in the Syrian port of Lattakia. Iran’s PressTV provided video of that event, along with footage of Iran’s navy commander visiting Damascus to sign a cooperation agreement with his Syrian counterpart.
Of course, if fact-checkers are desperate for a good chuckle, why deny them their fun over Romney’s locution? Syria is by no means Iran’s only access to the sea, and we can cavil over what distances and means of transport differentiate a “route” from, say, an access point, or a hub. But this comment did not arise in the midst of a detailed geography lesson. Romney made it, arguably as shorthand, during a debate on foreign policy. Even the most mirth-filled fact-checker might reasonably pause for a moment to consider whether it meant the candidate has never seen a map, or whether, having looked at much more than just the map, he was flagging the dangerous and increasingly alarming dealings between Iran and its bedfellow-on-the-Med, Syria.