In matters of state, diplomatic doesn't mean "nice".
When you draw on diplomacy with an office-mate, you tell them their unrealistic ideas are "ambitious". When you draw on diplomacy as a national defense strategy, you use everything from visits to talks to warnings to sanctions. And some of your tactics won't be "nice" at all. Diplomacy refers to every measure taken up to the precipice of war, without declaring war.
Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum know this, but they gain more by characterizing the President's use of diplomacy as a dangerous hesitation.
In matters of state, sanctions aren't weakness or procrastination.
The sanctions imposed by the US and NATO on Iran are causing them catastrophic economic consequences and extreme isolation from the rest of the world. In fact, this level of non-military penalty, with its impact on the health and safety of the civilian population, can only be condoned in hopes of preventing the greater tragedy of war. In order to save countless lives in the long run, sanctions have to be survived somehow until they become intolerable to Khamenie and Ahmadinejad. Iranian citizens would not question whether the current sanctions are stringent.
Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum know this too. They know that Obama, with the EU, will continue to apply pressure until Iran comes in line. But on the campaign trail they gain more by claiming that their own sanctions will be somehow tougher and more crippling, and that they will have an ability superior to that of the President to identify the crucial moment when the benefit of war outweighs the cost.
In matters of state, negotiation doesn't mean appeasement.
President Obama explained during his press conference Tuesday that in upcoming talks between Iran and the EU, Iran will have to meet concrete expectations. They still have a window of opportunity to "rejoin the community of nations, " Obama said. The ball will be in their court, and according to the President, "They know what to do. This is not a mystery." They can no longer simply claim to the world that they mean no harm. Obama described the steps Iran must take as complex and methodical. "I don't expect there to be a breakthrough in a first meeting. They must send the signal that they are serious about resolving this issue," and take verifiable steps "to allow them to be in compliance with international norms, international mandates, and to abide by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty."
The benefit to us of providing that window is that we can avoid war. The risk is that Iran will be insincere, waste the time of the EU, and thwart progress in the non-proliferation effort. The risk is not that they will fly back to Iran and launch missiles - they don't have them and won't get them.
Romney and Santorum also know this. But (they are assuming) they gain more by speaking in the language that spooked our nation so intensely in 2002 and 2003 that we let our own government become the evil-doers.
The stakes are high.
Circumstances call for Iran to show their hand. But they don't call for Romney's suggestion that we send warships to the Mediterranean. He's doing exactly what Condoleezza Rice was doing when she invoked the mushroom cloud. When Santorum says the United States must give Iran a "clear ultimatum" to dismantle its nuclear facilities, and if they don't comply "we will tear them down ourselves," he is doing what Bush was doing by telling Hussein to "disarm or else."
Of course Iran must dismantle their nuclear facilities. The US, working with the world community, will make them do so. If we're going to use inflammatory rhetoric to discuss that fact, let's use it all the way around. Let's ask questions like this:
- Would you rather Iran figure out how to save face and get this done, or would you rather have another round of shock and awe?
- Would you rather see a non-nuclear Iran result from diplomacy, or from blood, horror, and destruction?
- Would you rather imagine us two years from now maintaining a laborious truce with Iran, likely a sort of Cold War, or would you rather we lock things up now by slaughtering Iranian civilians and sacrificing the arms, legs, brain-function and lives of another contingent of our 19 and 20 year-olds?
- Would you rather take the unease that comes with diplomacy, or the coffins that come with the warships?