Iran and the CNN Arizona GOP Presidential Debate
Feb 22, 2012

Iran and the CNN Arizona GOP Presidential Debate

CNN Arizona GOP Debate
As it often has been in the past, Iran was the principle foreign policy topic discussed in what may well be the last GOP Presidential Debate that we have to suffer through. If it is possible, the hyperbolic, warmongering rhetoric reached a new low. Additional debate comments outside of the Iran issue are offered at the end of the post.

One of the problems in presenting Iran as a dire threat to the US is that America is, of course, an entire continent away from the US and protected by the world's most powerful military. It is thus necessary to construct a narrative of how exactly Iran could attack America. Mitt Romney provided that constructed path:
"Syria is providing the armament of Hezbollah in Lebanon...Ahmadinejad having fissile material that he can give to Hezbollah and Hamas and that they can bring into Latin America and potentially bring across the border into the United States to let off dirty bombs here."
Iran to Syria to Lebanon to Latin America to the US. This is, needless to say, entirely a fiction. There is no evidence or reason to suspect they are anywhere close to the capacities to do any component of this let alone have the will or desire to do it. One could say the same story about Pakistan or any other number of other countries (using other weapons than nukes, perhaps). But it provides that narrative that Iran might, just might, be able to attack you in the comfort of your home. It also is a narrative that works in the Israel issue and the illegal immigrant/border security issue all into a neat package.

Rick Santorum, who typically tries to be the strongest on the anti-Iranian side, delivered what can only be considered to be a perfectly written, prepared, and memorized sound bite:
"Ladies and gentlemen, we have a president who isn't going to stop them. He isn't going to stop them from getting a nuclear weapon. We need a new president or we are going to have a cataclysmic situation with a -- a power that is the most prolific proliferator of terror in the world that will be able to do so with impunity because they will have a nuclear weapon to protect -- protect them for whatever they do. It has to be stopped, and this president is not in a position to do that."
That sure sounds bad. Which is, of course, the point. In order to make Obama look bad on Iran for taking a (only relatively) constrained approach of sanctions, the GOP candidates need to make Iran not just be a troubling issue or a rogue country, but an apocalyptic end times that they - and only they - could be trusted to fight.

Newt Gingrich -- ever in need to appease Sheldon Adelson the billionaire financier of Gingrich's campaign and with a far right pro-Israel stance -- stooped to holocaust imagery and implying Ahmadinejad was a "madman".

Is Iran a rational actor?
Gingrich referenced Gen. Dempsey's, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recent comments that Iran was a "rational actor". The fact that Ahmadinejad makes ridiculous assertions about 9/11, the holocaust and the like are purported to be evidence to the contrary. The immediate question to ask, in that case, is whether there are good rational reasons why Iran acts the way it does. I have argued that they do. In fact, just as the comments made by these GOP players seem irrational and unsubstantiated, they have reasonable political reasons for saying what they do. It may well be the tactically best path for them. The same is true for Iran and for the dominant players within Iran where it is entirely possible to make quite reasonable and logical justifications for why they say the ridiculous things they say. It is for this reason that Gen. Dempsey is absolutely correct.

Ron Paul was, as usual, the only voice of reason. Frankly, for all my dislike of Ron Paul, the level of support he gets still gives me hope despite statistics like that 71% of Americans believe Iran already has a nuclear weapon. He clearly stated that they did not have one. He talked about how we have dealt with far more powerful and belligerent aggressors with thousands of nuclear weapons successfully and how the sanctions regimes are harming, not helping, the regime.

Other issues in the debate:

  • Rick Santorum got eviscerated on the question of earmarks. Instead of passing it under the rug, he went on a prolonged and extensive justification of earmarks in his Bush years and was roundly attacked by all three other candidates (and booed by the audience). For much of the debate he came off relatively well, but this portion of it ought to make it be considered a "loss" for him at a time when he desperately needed a strong win. This earmark issue will be a big way in which Mitt Romney decides to attack Rick Santorum so he can't entirely hide from it, but this was poor way to deal with it. 
  • The crowd was most reactive to a moderator question on what the candidates thought of birth control which it extensively booed. All of the candidates responded really well to this question and it is sure to appeal strongly to their base. 
  • Despite just releasing his tax plan today (after how many years of campaigning?), Mitt Romney barely mentioned it and only in defense.  Odd, but then emphasizing actual policies is rare. 
  • Romney's tax plan, incidentally, is well positioned to take on Obama by cutting capital gains taxes only for those under 200k. As much as the other candidates might try to blast Romney for "class warfare", this polls incredibly well and gives the perception that Romney is out for the middle class and not just the 1% which is a critical perception for him to give to win independents. 
  • For all the past talk of Newt's alleged debate skills, I really don't see it. He is constantly dropped references to people and historical events and policy names that people simply don't get it. This is not an effective tactic. I think his 'rising above the fray to give the real issue' type comments do work, but opening the debate by making a reference to Hamilton? This is hardly effective. 

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