Off the Record: National Security Leaders Respond

September 18, 2012

Today’s release of a video of Governor Romney speaking openly and forcefully about a number of foreign policy issues at a private fundraiser heightens two concerns raised by security leaders from both parties: that Romney’s views are extreme and out of step with experts and the public, and that he seems to lack the seriousness required for the role of commander in chief.

IRAN:

Romney: Iran is a “crazed fanatic”; fears use of dirty bomb from highly enriched uranium. Romney says: “If I were Iran, if I were Iran—a crazed fanatic, I’d say let’s get a little fissile material to Hezbollah, have them carry it to Chicago or some other place, and then if anything goes wrong, or America starts acting up, we’ll just say, “Guess what? Unless you stand down, why, we’re going to let off a dirty bomb.” I mean this is where we have—where America could be held up and blackmailed by Iran, by the mullahs, by crazy people. So we really don’t have any option but to keep Iran from having a nuclear weapon.” [Mitt Romney via Mother Jones, 9/18/12]

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: “Iran is a rational actor”; “dangerous” to think otherwise. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Dempsey has made clear his view of Iran’s rationality: “We are of the opinion that Iran is a rational actor.” When asked if he stood by that belief in a subsequent interview, he said, “Yes, I stand by it because the alternative is almost unimaginable. The alternative is that we attribute to them that their actions are so irrational that they have no basis of planning… I think that’s a very dangerous thing for us to do. It doesn’t mean I agree with what they decide by the way but they have some thought process.” [Martin Dempsey via Press TV, 2/20/12. Martin Dempsey via Think Progress, 3/1/12]

Security experts and scientists: a dirty bomb is not the concern with Iran’s nuclear program. In his reporting on the video, journalist David Corn observed, “Romney didn’t appear to understand that a dirty bomb—an explosive device that spreads radioactive substances—does not require fissile material from a nuclear weapons program.” Indeed, the nuclear material Iran has, uranium, is a poor dirty bomb source. The Federation of American Scientists explains that “uranium is simply not a good radioactive bomb material” — it would take 1.46 thousand tons of uranium, plus explosives, to build a bomb that would contaminate all of Manhattan.  The private intelligence firm Stratfor explains, “It is important to note that a dirty bomb is not a nuclear device, and no nuclear reaction occurs. A dirty bomb will not produce an effect like the nuclear devices dropped on Hiroshima or Nagasaki… The radioisotopes that can be used to construct an RDD are fairly common. Even those materials considered by many to be the most likely to be used in an RDD, such as cobalt-60 and cesium-137, have legitimate medical, commercial and industrial uses. Organizations such as the International Atomic Energy Agency warn that such radioisotopes are readily available to virtually any country in the world.” [David Corn, 9/18/12. Scott Stewart, 4/22/10. FAS, 2008]

MIDDLE EAST PEACE:

Romney: Palestinians don’t want peace; best U.S. policy is to “kick the can down the road;” was told peace possible but “didn’t delve into it.” Romney says: “And I look at the Palestinians not wanting to see peace anyway, for political purposes, committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel, and these thorny issues, and I say, ‘There’s just no way.’ And so what you do is you say, ‘You move things along the best way you can.’ … All right, we have a potentially volatile situation but we sort of live with it, and we kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it. We don’t go to war to try and resolve it imminently. On the other hand, I got a call from a former secretary of state. I won’t mention which one it was, but this individual said to me, you know, I think there’s a prospect for a settlement between the Palestinians and the Israelis after the Palestinian elections. I said, ‘Really?’ And, you know, his answer was, ‘Yes, I think there’s some prospect.’ And I didn’t delve into it.” [Mitt Romney via Mother Jones, 9/18/12]

For 40 years, presidents from both parties have seen Middle East peace – and U.S. leadership for peace — as vital to American national security interests.

Brent Scowcroft, national security advisor to Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush: “The US has more direct interests at stake in ensuring a lasting peace between Israel and Palestine than it does in the outcome in most other countries in the region. Remaining silent on deadlocked negotiations over a two state solution, while encouraging greater democratisation in other countries, suggests a double standard that damages America’s image in the Middle East and the broader Muslim world. This is particularly true because the Palestinian issue stands out as the one issue in the Middle East where nothing can be accomplished without active American leadership, including that of President Barack Obama. No other country can convince Israeli and Palestinian leaders to reach a binding compromise that results in two states living side by side in peace and security, ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and all claims related to it. Such an outcome would significantly increase Israel’s security, while resolving an issue that adversely affects America’s national security interests in the region.” [Brent Scowcroft, Financial Times, 4/13/11]

Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security advisor to President Jimmy Carter: “The issue in the Middle East is not just security for Israel, or rights for the Palestinians – it’s also fundamental American national interest – and that has to guide American policy.” [Zbigniew Brzezinski, 5/20/11]

David Petraeus, CIA Director and former CENTCOM Commander: “The enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests in the AOR [CENTCOM Area of Responsibility]. Israeli-Palestinian tensions often flare into violence and large-scale armed confrontations. The conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel. Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples in the AOR and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilize support. The conflict also gives Iran influence in the Arab world through its clients, Lebanese Hizballah and Hamas.” [David Petraeus, 3/16/10]

American public wants U.S. to be a leader for peace, not on the sidelines. The recent Chicago Council on Global Affairs 2012 survey of American public opinion found that “While most Americans prefer not to take sides in the conflict, many still support actions that might help the two sides resolve their differences.”[ Chicago Council, 9/11/12]

Bipartisan observers voice concern over unpresidential behavior:

Colin Powell, former Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, when Romney called Russia our “number one geopolitical foe” responded:  “C’mon, Mitt…think! That isn’t the case. And I don’t know whether Mitt really feels that or…It’s been catching a lot of heck from regular GOP foreign affairs community. We were kind of taken aback by it. Look at the world. There is no pure competitor to the United States of America.” [Colin Powell via MSNBC, 5/23/12]

Steve Schmidt, who served as senior campaign strategist and advisor to John McCain’s 2008 campaign, on Romney’s response to violence at our Middle East embassies:   “The comments were a big mistake, and the decision to double down on them was an even bigger mistake… There are legitimate criticisms to be made but you foreclose on your ability to make them when you try to score easy political points. And the American people, when the country is attacked, whether they’re a Republican or Democrat or independent, want to see leaders who have measured responses, not leaders whose first instinct is to try to score political points.” [CBS, 9/13/12]

Major General (ret) Paul Eaton, senior advisor at the National Security Network also responded to the embassy attacks: “I deeply regret some of the intemperate remarks that we’ve heard particularly from senior Republican leadership who have not been steady in the saddle.” [Paul Eaton, 9/13/12]

What We’re Reading

NATO restricted joint patrol operations with Afghan troops in the wake of the rise in “insider attacks” committed by rogue Afghan security forces, as the last of U.S. “surge” troops left the country.

A female suicide bomber in Kabul killed 14 people, including 10 foreigners, in response to the amateur video that parodies the Prophet Muhammad.

The EU’s foreign affairs representative will meet with Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator in Istanbul ahead of expected P5+1  talks later in the month.

The new U.N. special envoy for Syria visited refugees in Turkey and Jordan and met with Assad in Syria. He also met with the ministers of the newly formed Islamic Quartet.

Iran launched a submarine into the Gulf as the U.S. and allied navies held exercises in the same waters to practice keeping oil shipping lanes open.

Anti-Japan protests reignited in China causing many Japanese businesses  stores and factories across China.

The U.S. and Chinese navies carried out joint anti-piracy drills off the Horn of Africa.

Sudan and South Sudan make progress to reaching a border deal to allow the resumption of oil exports.

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb called for attacks on U.S. diplomats and urged an escalation of protests at U.S. embassies.

Spanish banks’ bad debts hit a record high, causing the government to consider a bailout from the European Central Bank.

Greek judges and hospital doctors started a series of lengthy protests against planned austerity measures that affect courts and hospitals.

Commentary of the Day

Shibley Telhami argues that “steady and intensive diplomacy,” not panic, should be the response to the recent Middle East protests and violence.

Stephanie Kleine-Ahlbrandt examines the dangers behind China and Japan’s dispute over islands in the East China Sea.

Gene Frieda explains why the E.U. economic crisis is far from over.

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