Among the 28% who oppose military force are many supporters of Rand Paul who see any overseas military action as the thin end of the wedge for another land war. These are fearful people. The task of leadership is to make them more afraid of terrorists getting nuclear weapons from Iran than, say, the CIA using drones on American territory.
Republicans are still playing geopolitical small ball, attacking Obama for not doing enough to help the Syrian opposition, for example. Small ball is guaranteed to lose. Precisely how the United States is supposed to arm “moderate” Syrian Sunnis while keeping weapons out of the hands of the al-Qaeda types who do a disproportionate share of the fighting is an unanswerable question in any case. In Syria’s chaos, we can’t often tell them apart. Meanwhile Iran has placed Revolutionary Guard regulars in Syria as well as its Hezbollah proxies. Iran’s attempt to position itself as the nuclear-capable dominant power in a “Shi’ite crescent” from Lebanon to Afghanistan persuades the Sunnis of Syria (and their co-religionists across the Iraqi border) to fight to the death. Syria’s civil war cannot be controlled as long as the shadow of Iran falls over the country. The road to peace in Damascus lies through Tehran (and Bushehr).
It’s pointless to take potshots at Obama for failing to act on Syria. What we should say is this: “Iran is the main source of instability in the Middle East. Iran’s intervention in Syria has turned the country into a slaughterhouse. By showing weakness to Iran, the Obama administration encourages its murderous activities elsewhere in the region.” American missteps set up the Syrian civil war, as I argued in a March 19 post. Most of this goes above the heads of the voters. But they are wise enough to know that it’s extremely dangerous for an America-hating band of murderers in Tehran to get hold of nuclear weapons.
Republican leaders should hammer at this issue relentlessly. If Obama–contrary to the world’s well-founded expectations–were to take action against Iran, we would take the credit. If Iran gets nuclear weapons, Obama will take the blame for losing the Middle East. In either case, Republicans will regain the high ground on foreign policy.