We Republicans now find ourselves painted into a corner. The public doesn’t trust us with guns. That’s why Rand Paul has gotten his fifteen minutes of fame (and if it turns out to be more than fifteen minutes, we are in trouble). It’s satisfying at one level to watch Rand Paul beat up Obama’s nominee for CIA director, but he represents a nasty brand of isolationism.
We nonetheless have to state the obvious: The only way to prevent Syria’s living hell from spreading to Iraq and Lebanon is to neutralize the main source of instability: Iran. Republicans should rally behind Gen. James Mattis, whom Obama fired as head of Central Command. Gen. Mattis told a Senate committee March 6 that sanctions aren’t working, and that Tehran ”enriching uranium beyond any plausible peaceful purpose.” The United States should not only remove Iran’s nuclear program, but also destroy Revolutionary Guards bases and other conventional capability that the Tehran regime employs to destabilize its neighbors. And the U.S. should throw its full weight behind regime change. With Iran out of the picture, the local conflicts–horrific as they are–will remain local. I do not believe that either Egypt or Syria can be stabilized, but it is possible to limit the spread of their instability. The prospect of a prolonged Sunni-Shi’ite war in the region will be horrific past the imagining of most Americans. Secondary conflicts will erupt around it, including long-frustrated minorities like the Kurds, who have created a functioning de facto state in northern Iraq.
We Republicans have to cure ourselves of the illusion that we can engineer the happiness of other cultures with an inherent antipathy to Western-style democracy. Where the Muslim world is concerned, optimism is cowardice. And we have to persuade the American people that selective, limited military action against Iran will not draw the United States into a new land war.
If we fail, the world will change to our lasting disadvantage. For example: if Iran gets a deliverable nuclear bomb, Saudi Arabia will ask Pakistan to deploy nuclear weapons in Saudi Arabia as a deterrent. China has had a covert role in Pakistan’s nuclear program from the outset; if the United States fails to stop Iran’s nuclear program, China will have an urgent interest in a military presence in the Persian Gulf, and the means to accomplish it through nuclear proliferation. It is a nightmare scenario, but it is not improbable. We might as well tell the truth. To do that, we need to face up to it ourselves.