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Romney: I Do - and Don't - Need OK from Congress to Attack Iran

June 18, 2012

On Sunday, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney made two stunning statements about Iran. First, Romney managed to unlearn the entire history of the Cold War by claiming the United State "cannot survive" the advent of a nuclear Iran. Just as jaw-dropping, Governor Romney told Face the Nation that as President he would not need authorization from Congress in order to launch pre-emptive strikes against Tehran. Of course, in unilaterally launching a war against Iran President Romney wouldn't just be ignoring the War Powers Act and the United States Constitution. As it turns out, he would be forgetting his 2007 statement that "you sit down with your attorneys" before taking military action against Iran's nuclear facilities.

Romney has talked tough on Iran throughout his second run for the White House, including his oft-repeated claim, "If we re-elect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon. If you elect me as president, Iran will not have a nuclear weapon." But on Sunday, Obama's challenger went a step further and redefined the president's powers as commander-in-chief. Asked by Bob Schieffer if he would need Congressional authorization to strike Iran, Romney answered with a big "no":

I can assure you if I'm president, the Iranians will have no question but that I will be willing to take military action if necessary to prevent them from becoming a nuclear threat to the world. I don't believe at this stage, therefore, if I'm president that we need to have a war powers approval or special authorization for military force. The president has that capacity now. I understand that some in the Senate for instance have written letters to the president indicating you should know that a containment strategy is unacceptable. We cannot survive a course of action which would include a nuclear Iran we must be willing to take any and all actions.

The notion that "the President has that capacity now" would have come as a surprise to Truman, Johnson, Clinton or even Bush when it came to the successful nuclear tests by the Soviet Union, China or North Korea. But even leaving those historical speed bumps aside, the 2012 version of candidate Mitt Romney would come in for criticism from his 2007 incarnation. During the Wall Street Journal/MSNBC GOP debate in October 2007, Governor Romney gave Chris Matthews a much different response to the same question:

MATTHEWS: Governor Romney, that raises the question, if you were president of the United States, would you need to go to Congress to get authorization to take military action against Iran's nuclear facilities?
ROMNEY: You sit down with your attorneys and tell you want 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. The president did that as he was planning on moving into Iraq and received the authorization of Congress...
MATTHEWS: Did he need it?
ROMNEY: You know, we're going to let the lawyers sort out what he needed to do and what he didn't need to do. But, certainly, what you want to do is to have the agreement of all the people -- leadership of our government as well as our friends around the world where those circumstances are available.

As the record sadly shows, the subject of Iran has not been a happy one for Mitt Romney. His demand for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to be prosecuted by the UN for war crimes fell on deaf ears, not only because the "U.S. policy has been to not honor the International Criminal Court; we are not a signatory to the Rome Treaty," but because "it would be unprecedented to indict a foreign leader for a genocide that hasn't even taken place yet." Romney's call for pension funds to disinvest from firms doing business with Tehran, another idea championed by his close friend and former consulting colleague Benjamin Netanyahu, ended abruptly when it was revealed Mitt's former employers at Bain has just such ties. Years before Glenn Beck began warning Fox News viewers about the supposed threat of a "global Islamic caliphate," candidate Romney sounded the same alarm to GOP primary voters. And in March, Mitt Romney forgot about the Iran-Contra scandal as he promised to emulate Ronald Reagan's "clarity, strength, and resolve" in dealing with the mullahs in Tehran.
Whether or not the Iran develops nuclear weapons, the United States will survive. But if Americans start learning about his record on Iran, Mitt Romney's presidential hopes are another matter.


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

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