Iran has been the hot topic of the day with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney beating the Iran war drum with an OP/ED today titled: “How I would check Iran’s nuclear ambition“.
Note Romney’s closing statement in which he beats the drum harder…
My foreign policy plan to avert this catastrophe is plain: Either the ayatollahs will get the message, or they will learn some very painful lessons about the meaning of American resolve.
Senator John Kerry, Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, took to the Senate floor today to deliver remarks on Iran and took time to rebut Romney’s OP/ED in his floor statement:
“We’re going to have a bruising election season. And so we should. That’s how we decide big issues in the United States. We always have. But let’s have an honest debate, not a contrived one. Governor Romney can debate the man in the White House instead of inventing straw men on the op-ed pages. He should be armed with facts instead of empty rhetoric. And if we are to succeed as the American people want us to in order to avoid a nuclear Iran, then at some point we must all act like statesmen, not candidates. We must be clear-eyed about what we have accomplished and what we have yet to do. That’s what Americans expect from their Commander in Chief, and they deserve no less.”
The full text of Chairman Kerry’s floor statement, as delivered, is below:
Mr. President, several of us here in the Senate have run for President. Two of us have been our Party’s nominees. Dozens of others have played major roles in tough campaigns. None of us are strangers to the rough and tumble of politics. I think we all understand on a personal level what the humorist said at the turn of the century when he wrote, “politics ain’t beanbag.” You have to have a thick skin and a strong backbone to survive in this business. You have to be able to take a punch. We all understand that.
So it is not as an innocent that I say I was troubled to read an op-ed in this morning’s Washington Post by the likely Republican nominee for President, Mitt Romney – an attack on the Administration’s Iran policy as inaccurate as it was aggressive.
Every candidate for the Oval Office has the right to criticize the President. But, particularly this week, while Prime Minster Netanyahu is in Washington meeting with the Administration to chart a path forward, we should all remember that the nuclear issue with Iran is deadly serious business that should invite sobriety and serious-minded solutions, not sloganeering and sound bites. This can’t become just another applause line on the Republican presidential stump. Talk has consequences, and idle talk of war only helps Iran by spooking the tight oil market and increasing the price of the Iranian crude that pays for its nuclear program. And to create false differences with the President just to score political points does nothing to move Iran off a dangerous nuclear course. Worst of all, Governor Romney’s op-ed does not even do readers the courtesy of describing how a President Romney would do anything different from what the Obama administration has already done.
If we’re going to disagree, let’s do so responsibly – and honestly.
Just look at this op-ed. From his opening paragraphs, Romney garbles history. Going back to the Iranian revolution, he calls President Carter “feckless,” saying he did nothing for over a year while Iranian revolutionaries held Americans captive. In fact—it was the months of President Carter’s negotiations and the all-night session before the inauguration on January 20, 1981 that freed the hostages.
But I bring the hostage crisis up for another reason — because when those helicopters went down in the desert during the failed rescue attempt in 1980, the United States not only lost an opportunity to get our people back sooner, President Carter lost any chance he had at reelection. And yet, President Obama, whom Governor Romney calls “the most feckless president since Carter,” threw that lesson out the window and authorized the gutsy and dangerous raid in Pakistan that finally killed Osama bin Laden.
Despite everything that could have gone wrong with that raid, the mission was ordered with confidence, executed with courage, and the man who plotted the September 11 attacks was finally held accountable for the murder of thousands of Americans. George W. Bush may have said “Wanted: Dead or Alive,” but President Obama delivered. I don’t know if Governor Romney has checked the definition of the word “feckless” lately, but that ain’t it.
The rest of Romney’s argument doesn’t get any better.
In fact, he goes on to propose action after action that President Obama has already taken. Look, this is not just my analysis. Let me read you the first sentences from an article in today’s New York Times:
“To rein in Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, Mitt Romney says he would conduct naval exercises in the Persian Gulf…. He would try to ratchet up Security Council sanctions on Iran, targeting its Revolutionary Guards, and the country’s central bank and other financial institutions. And if Russia and China do not go along, he says, the United States should team up with other willing governments to put such punitive measures in place. As it turns out, that amounts to what President Obama is doing.”
Ambassador Nick Burns, President Bush’s lead negotiator on Iran, said, “The attacks on Obama basically say, ‘He’s weak and we’re strong.’ But when you look at the specifics, you don’t see any difference.”
So let’s go point by point through the Romney plan.
He writes that he would proceed with missile defenses to protect against Iran. He ignores the fact that one of the first things that the Obama administration did was to issue its plans for the Phased Adaptive Approach—so that we would be able to sooner protect our friends and allies against the Iranian missile threat and to provide increasing levels of capability as the technology advances. During the debate over the New START treaty, the Senate heard in great detail—including from the commander of Strategic Command and the director of the Missile Defense Agency—how this system would work and how the administration planned to proceed with it. In fact, the president sent the Senate a letter affirming his commitment to missile defense, and over the past year he has stuck by that promise.
Then Romney goes on to say that President Obama doesn’t understand the seriousness of the threat from nuclear terrorism. Again, just look at the record: For the first time, the President set as a national goal securing all vulnerable nuclear material around the world in four years. He won international endorsement of that effort at the 2010 Nuclear Security Summit. Last year alone, the Department of Energy removed or eliminated over 250 kilograms of highly enriched uranium from places like Ukraine, Belarus, Serbia, and Kazakhstan. And in the budget request before Congress, the Administration plans to remove or eliminate highly enriched uranium from 9 countries, including Vietnam, Ukraine, and Mexico.
Then, Romney lays out the greatest willful avoidance of the facts in his entire article. He calls for ever-tightening sanctions on Iran. Mr. President, what exactly is it that he thinks we’ve been doing for the past three years? When President Obama took office, Iran was ascendant. As the Vice President used to say when he chaired the Foreign Relations Committee, freedom wasn’t on the march – Iran was on the march. Its reach through proxies like Hezbollah threatened the United States, its allies and the region. The international community was divided; diplomacy—both multilateral and bilateral—was stalled.
But in June 2010, with a decisive push from President Obama, the United Nations put in place the most comprehensive and biting international sanctions the Iranian government has ever faced—imposing restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities, ballistic missile program, conventional military exports to Iran, Iranian banks and financial transactions, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
What’s more, in coordination with allies such as the European Union, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Canada and others, the Obama Administration put in place additional measures, ratcheting up pressure on the country’s petrochemical industry, oil and gas industry, and financial sector. Recently, Europe announced the ban of oil imports from Iran, which will further pressure Iran’s economy.
And that’s just on the multilateral front. President Obama also worked closely with Congress to pass the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act, which strengthened existing U.S. sanctions, and made it harder for the Iranian government to buy refined petroleum and modernize its oil and gas sector. And, recently, we imposed tough new sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran. Don’t take my word for it – Iran’s President Ahmadinejad is the one feeling the pressure. As he said last fall, “our banks cannot make international transactions anymore.”
Today, all of these sanctions are beginning to bite. Iran is now virtually cut off from large parts of the international financial system. Almost $60 billion in energy-related projects in Iran have been put on hold or discontinued. Iran has started to lose oil sales to key customers in Europe and Asia, and those losses could reach up to 40 percent of its daily sales, according to the International Energy Agency. Banking sanctions have prevented several of Iran’s customers from paying for its petroleum products, leaving the Central Bank short of hard currency and driving down the unofficial foreign exchange rate by 40 percent in a single month.
Just yesterday, the deputy chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was quoted as saying: “The regime is at the height of isolation and in the midst of a technological, scientific, and economic siege. We are not in a situation of imaginary threats and sanctions. Threats and sanctions against us are effectively being pursued.”
Iran is also divided internally and isolated diplomatically like never before. Iran’s most important ally, Syria, is facing regime collapse, which a former director of Israel’s Mossad recently said could be a bigger strategic setback for Iran than a military strike against it. And, to talk about Israel for a second, we should all remember that President Obama has provided record amounts of security funding to help Israel maintain its qualitative military edge. Prime Minister Netanyahu has spoken of President Obama’s ironclad commitment to Israel’s security. He said “that our security cooperation is unprecedented… And [that President Obama] has backed those words with deeds.”
So when you add it all up, Mitt Romney is just trying to ignore, twist, and distort the Administration’s policy to drive a wedge in our politics.
Mr. President, let us be crystal clear: we must prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. That is why President Obama, even as he builds pressure for a diplomatic solution, keeps reiterating that all options are on the table. And he’s underscored that – as he said – “I don’t bluff.” And you can ask Osama bin Laden what he means when he says that. Mr. President, we’re going to have tough debates. We’re going to have a bruising election season. And so we should. That’s how we decide big issues in the United States. We always have. But let’s have an honest debate, not a contrived one. Governor Romney can debate the man in the White House instead of inventing straw men on the op-ed pages. He should be armed with facts instead of empty rhetoric. And if we are to succeed as the American people want us to in order to avoid a nuclear Iran, then at some point we must all act like statesmen, not candidates. We must be clear-eyed about what we have accomplished and what we have yet to do. That’s what Americans expect from their Commander in Chief, and they deserve no less.
In related news during his presser today, President Obama spent sometime rebuffing “criticism that he has been weak on Iran,” and he accused his “Republican rivals of “beating the drums of war” amid rising concerns about the prospect of Iran’s developing a nuclear weapon.”