In the Washington Post earlier this month, former Democratic presidential candidate John Kerryweighed in on the Republican nomination race, responding to a foreign policy piece written by Mitt Romney a few days earlier. Kerry described Romney’s policy on Iran as both ‘inaccurate’ and ‘aggressive’, and accused him of imagining problems with the President Obama’s current policy that do not really exist in order to generate support from the Republican base.
Romney’s campaign trail rhetoric thus far confirms that he is making every effort to appeal to core Republican voters by distancing himself from the current President. The enthusiasm he expressed last year for an ‘American Century’, combined with his readiness to accuse Obama of ‘apologising for America’, suggests a considerable renascence of exceptionalist Republicanism. Indeed, in the article to which Kerry was responding, Romney compared himself to former Republican President Ronald Reagan, promising to revive a Cold War-style foreign policy of ‘peace through strength’.
More interestingly, the article reiterates a number of Romney’s core policy aims surrounding Iran. Romney says that he ‘will press for ever-tightening sanctions’ against Iran, supporting the statement on his website that he will implement ‘a fifth round of sanctions targeted at the financial resources that underpin the Iranian regime.’ As Kerry points out, this declaration seems to brush aside the previous four rounds of sanctions, which have restricted Iran’s finances and nuclear programme, banned its arms exports, implemented cargo inspections and prevented the country from buying heavy weaponry and military vehicles. All this, in addition to the European Union’s oil embargo on Iran announced in January this year, suggests that Romney’s sanction pledge represents an intensification of current US policy, rather than the kind of change Romney claims to want. Romney’s website goes so far as to praise the current President ‘for pushing for a fourth round of international sanctions on Iran early in his term’ despite the Republican frontrunner himself commenting early in March this year that Obama ‘has failed to put into place crippling sanctions against Iran.’ These conflicting statements suggest that Romney’s policies on Iran depend greatly on which crowd he is speaking to.
There are areas in which Romney is more consistent with his criticism of Obama’s policy, however. In a debate last year, Romney said that the President’s ‘greatest failing from a foreign policy stand point’ has been his failure to persuade Iran to drop its nuclear ambitions, adding: ‘If we re-elect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon. And if you elect Mitt Romney, Iran will not have a nuclear weapon.’ More specifically, Romney’s website says that Obama should have supported popular opposition within Iran in 2009, labelling his restraint as ‘a disgraceful abdication of American moral authority.’ The current President has remained reluctant over the issue of internal opposition to the regime in Iran, responding to renewed protest in early 2011 by saying: ‘Each country is different, each country has its own traditions, and America can’t dictate what happens in these societies.’ However, commentators, including as the Washington Post’s Scott Wilson, have suggested that this reluctance underpins Obama’s argument that the legitimacy of regime change relies on the independent, internal desire for change, rather than the external influences of the United States.
Romney has also accused Obama of failing ‘to communicate that military options are on the table,’ explaining in his Washington Post article that he ‘will buttress my diplomacy with a military option that will persuade the ayatollahs to abandon their nuclear ambitions.’ However, in a recent interview for the Atlantic magazine, President Obama said that US policy in Iran includes political, economic and diplomatic elements, but also ‘a military component’, adding that ‘as President of the United States, I don’t bluff.’ These examples demonstrate a considerable degree of symmetry between Romney and Obama on the issue of military involvement, with both individuals committed to diplomatic and potential military solutions to the problems of Iran.
Given his commitment to sanctions and his fusion of diplomacy with military action, it appears that Mitt Romney is by no means advocating a shift away from the current administration’s policy, no matter how much distance he attempts to put between himself and the President.