We cannot tolerate nuclear weapons in the hands of nations that support terror. Preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons is a vital national security interest of the United States. No tool of statecraft should be taken off the table, but Senator McCain would continue a failed policy that has seen Iran strengthen its position, advance its nuclear program, and stockpile 150 kilos of low enriched uranium. I will use all elements of American power to pressure the Iranian regime, starting with aggressive, principled and direct diplomacy – diplomacy backed with strong sanctions and without preconditions.
Iran is stronger today because of our misadventures in Iraq. Its an argument that Obama has used over and over.
On May 16, 2008 in Watertown, S.D., Obama remarked, “They’ve got to answer for the fact that Iran is the greatest strategic beneficiary of our invasion of Iraq. It made Iran stronger, George Bush & John McCain’s policies,”
Cleveland, February 5, 2008: “Ending the war in Iraq I believe will be an important first step in achieving that goal because it will increase our flexibility and credibility when we deal with Iran. Make no mistake I believe that Iran has been the biggest strategic beneficiary of this war and I intend to change that.”
Another instance on video. “It is indisputable that Iran is the biggest strategic beneficiary of the war in Iraq. We have spent what will soon be close to a trillion dollars strengthening Iran, expanding their influence.”
Even, Obama surrogates like John Kerry have engaged in this reasoning. “Bush engages in self-deception arguing that not engaging Iran has worked. In fact, Iran has grown stronger: continuing to master the nuclear fuel cycle; arming militias in Iraq and Lebanon; bolstering extremist anti-Israeli proxies. It has embraced Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and spends lavishly to rebuild Afghanistan, gaining influence across the region.”
That our policies in Iraq have made Iran stronger has been a key part of Obama’s criticism of George Bush’s, and by implcation John McCain’s, foreign policy. It is a simple yet profound statement slipped into a speech about larger issues. Its a statement that most people accept without critical thought.
But is it actually true?
First, saying that Iran is the biggest strategic beneficiary of removing Saddam Hussein is the equivalent of saying that the Soviet Union was the biggest beneficiary of defeating Hitler or that Germany and Japan were the biggest strategic beneficiaries of the United States policies after World War II and during the Cold War. Arguably all three of those statements have a basis in truth. But each of them disregards the national security benefits accruing to the United States through the elimination of threats and bolstering of allies.
Second, examine the issue from Iran’s point of view. The United States has a little less than 200,000 troops operating in Iran’s next-door neighbors. The U.S. Navy controls its seas. The Iraqi people have turned against the civil war that Iran was eager to stoke. Europe, Russia and China have all agreed to tougher sanctions as a result of Iran’s continued defiance of international will. Syria, Iran’s last ally, is contemplating direct peace negotiations with Israel. An Israeli-Syrian peace agreement, and the ending of Syrian support for Hamas and Hezbollah, would strain the alliance between Syria and Iran. Iran may be more defiant than they were a few years ago but that is not the same thing as stronger.
Finally, assume that Obama’s statement was true for a period of time. Assume that during the last two years our struggles in Iraq did embolden the Iranian regime’s efforts to underwrite destablizing forces throughout the world. Given the current situation in Iraq, is that still true? Wasn’t it our struggles in Iraq that were emboldening Iran not merely the fact that we were there? Wasn’t it the prospect of American defeat in a new Vietnam that led to Iran’s agreesive behavior? If so, then doesn’t the prospect of victory in Iraq mean that Iran is weakened? Doesn’t that militate against a policy of withdrawing from Iraq regardless of the consequences to Iraqi stability?
Obama is more right than wrong in criticizing how Bush has approached Iran over the past eight years. Belatedly, even Bush has come to realize his follies. Arguably however, for the first time in several years security gains in Iraq have allowed the United States can approach the Iranian regime from a position of strength. Even if Obama was correct before, the Surge has changed everything. In Iraq and beyond.