The estimable Peggy Noonan asked last week, “Can the Republican Party recover from Iraq?,” adding, “It’s still digging out, and whether it can succeed is an open question.” Republicans can succeed by boldness, clarity, and courage, but by no other means. Americans trust the Republican Party to look out for their security in a pinch. By a margin of 63 to 28, the Pew Institute reported March 26, they favor military force to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons. Just 8% are undecided. There’s the Republican majority on foreign policy. Even Western Europeans (excepting Greece) favor the use of force if needed, albeit by smaller majorities.
Why aren’t we appealing to this majority? Apparently we are so browbeaten by the public backlash against the blunders in our nation-building exercise that we are afraid to ask the public to support a limited, mainly aerial attack on a terrorist nation on the verge of becoming a nuclear power. If that’s the best we can do, we deserve the contempt of the voters. Mitt Romney hid under his chair during the second presidential debate on foreign policy. It didn’t do him any good. This kind of timidity goes back to the Bush administration, which feared that an extension of the conflict would lead to a public backlash against the war.
Obama has done nothing since taking office but let the mullahs run out the clock while they accelerate uranium enrichment, extract plutonium from the Bushehr light war reactor, and perhaps acquire weapons from North Korea. No-one expects the Obama administration to do what the vast majority of Americans want, that is, use force to prevent this calamity from happening. Top Pentagon planners assume that Iran will acquire nuclear capability. The oil market assigns a probability of around zero that America will attack Iran, as I showed in a recent study for the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.
Republicans should assert leadership on national security. We should say: “Enough is enough. We’ve run out the clock for four years, and Iran is on the verge of getting nuclear weapons. If Iran gets nuclear weapons, so will the terrorists that Iran has funded and armed for the past thirty-four years. It’s time to take action.”
We should remind voters that Obama did nothing to aid the Iranian people when they demonstrated in the millions against vote fraud after the 2009 presidential elections in that country.
We should demand that Obama back regime change, as my PJ Media colleague Michael Ledeen has argued for years. We should ridicule the notion that our intelligence services can pinpoint the date at which Iran will become a nuclear power. They were caught flat-footed by India’s nuclear weapons acquisition in 1998 as well as North Korea’s apparent test of a plutonium bomb in February. And we should make clear that we have no intention of putting significant numbers of boots on the ground in Iran.
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.