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Mitt Romney's Iran Follies

November 22, 2011

As the GOP presidential field gathers once again for the CNN national security debate, Mitt Romney has already identified Iran as the place to contrast himself with the current commander-in-chief. "If we re-elect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon," Romney declared at the last Republican foreign policy shindig, adding, "If you elect me as president, Iran will not have a nuclear weapon."
Of course, there's one major problem with Governor Romney's declaration that Iran represents President Obama's "greatest failing." As it turns out, from his abandoned divestment proposal that ensnared his former employer and promise to "sit down with your attorneys" before attacking Iran to his dire Glenn Beck-style warnings about a global Islamic caliphate, Mitt's own record on Iran borders on the comical.
That won't stop the Romney campaign's tough talk on Tehran. While President Obama on Monday announced a new round of sanctions in response to Iran's nuclear program, a Romney aide claimed that Obama "says that all options are on the table but doesn't really mean all options are on the table." As for Romney, he outlined his own plan in a Wall Street Journal op-ed ("I Won't Let Iran Get Nukes") two weeks ago:

Si vis pacem, para bellum. That is a Latin phrase, but the ayatollahs will have no trouble understanding its meaning from a Romney administration: If you want peace, prepare for war...Only when the ayatollahs no longer have doubts about America's resolve will they abandon their nuclear ambitions.

Sadly for Mitt Romney, after the last four years Iranians and Americans alike will doubt his resolve.
After all, in 2007 Romney declared he favored all options "from blockade to bombardment" and announced that "If for some reasons [the Iranians] continue down their course of folly toward nuclear ambition, then I would take military action if that's available to us."
But only if the lawyers said it's OK first.

Asked by Chris Matthews if President Romney would "need to go to Congress to get authorization to take military action against Iran's nuclear facilities," a surprisingly sheepish Mitt answered:

"You sit down with your attorneys and tell you what you have to do, but obviously the president of the United States has to do what's in the best interest of the United States to protect us against a potential threat."

That wasn't the only time Romney's grandstanding on Iran quickly turned from the sublime to the ridiculous.
Consider, for example, Romney's 24 hour disinvestment campaign in early 2007, an effort cut short by revelations his own former employer had recent business dealings with Tehran. Following the lead of one-time Boston Consulting Group colleague and then-former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Romney began his grandstanding on Iranian disinvestment by targeting the Democratic-controlled states of New York and Massachusetts. On February 22, Romney sent letters to New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, Senators Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton as well as state comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli urging a policy of "strategic disinvestment from companies linked to the Iranian regime." Romney's theatrics continued:

"With your new responsibilities overseeing one of America's largest pension funds, you have a unique opportunity to lead an effort to isolate Iran as it pursues nuclear armament. I request that you immediately launch a policy of strategic disinvestment from companies linked to the Iranian regime. Screening pension investments and divesting from companies providing financial support to the Iranian regime or linked to Iran's weapons programs and terrorist activities could have a powerful impact. New investments should be scrutinized as long as Iran's regime continues its current, dangerous course."

As it turns out, scrutiny begins at home. As the AP and others detailed, Romney's former employer and the company he founded had links to very recent Iranian business deals:

Romney joined Boston-based Bain & Co., a management consulting firm, in 1978 and worked there until 1984. He was CEO of Bain Capital, a venture capital firm, from 1984 to 1999, despite a two-year return as Bain & Co.'s chief executive officer from 1991 to 1992.
Bain & Co. Italy, described in company literature as "the Italian branch of Bain & Co.," received a $2.3 million contract from the National Iranian Oil Co., in September 2004. Its task was to develop a master plan so NIOC -- the state oil company of Iran -- could become one of the world's top oil companies, according to Iranian and U.S. news accounts of the deal.
Bain Capital, the venture capital firm that Romney started and made him a multimillionaire, teamed up with the Haier Group, a Chinese appliance maker that has a factory in Iran, in an unsuccessful 2005 buyout effort.

Caught flat-footed by his hypocrisy that took the AP less than a day to uncover, Romney feebly responded:

"This is something for now-forward. I wouldn't begin to say that people who, in the past, have been doing business with Iran, are subject to the same scrutiny as that which is going on from a prospective basis."

Despite that fiasco, Romney was undeterred. As the GOP primaries approached, the former Massachusetts Governor was talking tough on Tehran again.
After the failure of his campaign to get the United Nations to indict President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on war crimes charges, Romney's rhetoric put Tehran at the center of a global Islamic conspiracy.

As part of his hard right-turn for the looming 2008 GOP primaries, Romney routinely conflated all Muslims into a single jihadist threat. In May 2007, Romney alarmingly - and erroneously - equated Sunni and Shiite, friend and foe, the guilty and the innocent across the Islamic world. (Ironically, his enemies list included the Muslim Brotherhood, 10 of whose members were invited to President Obama's speech in Cairo in June 2009.)

"But I don't want to buy into the Democratic pitch, that this is all about one person, Osama bin Laden. Because after we get him, there's going to be another and another. This is about Shia and Sunni. This is about Hezbollah and Hamas and al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood. This is the worldwide jihadist effort to try and cause the collapse of all moderate Islamic governments and replace them with a caliphate."

(Even regarding that "one person, Osama Bin Laden," Romney struggled. After insisting in May 2007 that "It's not worth moving heaven and earth spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person," Romney reversed course just three days later and declared of Bin Laden, " He's going to pay, and he will die.")

As it turned out, Romney wasn't the only Republican spouting the "Islamofascism" talking point. But by the fall of 2007, Mitt expanded his umbrella to include Iran. In an October 2007 campaign ad simply titled, "Jihad," Romney amazingly explained that Shiite Iran wanted to join Sunni Muslims in extending their dominion over the entire world:

"It's this century's nightmare, jihadism - violent, radical Islamic fundamentalism. Their goal is to unite the world under a single jihadist caliphate."

That doubtless came as a surprise to the mullahs in Tehran.
With so many potential enemies, it's no wonder Mitt Romney announced during a May 2007 Republican presidential candidates forum:

"Some people have said we ought to close Guantanamo. My view is, we ought to double Guantanamo."

After all, once President Romney's lawyers give their blessing, it will be full of Iranians.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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