I get it. And yet I really don’t get it.
Gotta say, I did not expect “regime change in Iran, yes or no?” to be a tough question for GOP candidates this year.
Jeb asked about whether U.S. should support regime change in Iran: “I’ll have to give that some thought. That’s a good question”
— Zeke Miller (@ZekeJMiller) April 17, 2015
That’s from Time mag reporter Zeke Miller. I googled around for a fuller transcript but can’t find one yet. I’ll update below if/when it’s available. In the meantime, you tell me: Why would any Republican candidate hedge on whether he wants to see the archterrorists in Tehran deposed with U.S. “support”? The obvious answer is that Jeb Bush isn’t “any Republican candidate.” He’s a Bush, which means he comes with tons of baggage among voters who aren’t thrilled with how America’s last major experiment with regime change in the Middle East turned out. (Obama had his own not-quite-as-major experiment with regime change in Libya, of course. That one’s turned out just as bad, if not worse.) If he wants to reassure people that he’s not another Dubya, equivocating on whether he’d like to see the mullahs go is a sharp way to do it.
So, I get it — but when I think about it more, I don’t. If he wanted to use Iran to draw a contrast with Bush 43, there were smarter answers available than this. For starters, after 35 years of “Death to America,” hostage-taking, terrorist attacks, and nuclear kabuki, you should … probably have an opinion by now on whether you favor continuity in Tehran. It’s okay, I guess, if you do favor it — maybe “regional stability” is paramount, or maybe you’re afraid of what would replace the Khomeinists once they’re gone — but if you’re applying to be C-in-C, you shouldn’t seemingly be considering this question for the first time in 2015. Beyond that, it’s strange that Jeb would hedge entirely on this rather than give a firmer answer that distances him from Dubya like “Yes, of course I hope for a democratic pluralistic Iran — but we’re never going to achieve that through American military intervention.” As I said today to a lefty friend, if you asked a bunch of Republican foreign-policy experts, I suspect they’d say there’s nothing better that could happen to the U.S. in the Middle East than for the mullahs to be ousted and replaced by a more liberal regime. It might solve the nuclear problem, it’d make American interests there and elsewhere safer, and it might well defuse the Sunni/Shiite sectarian war breaking out all over the region. Almost by definition, if you strongly support Israel — as nearly all Republicans do — you strongly support regime change in Iran. And given the Khomeinists’ track record and the relative moderation of much of the Iranian public, it’s hard to imagine that whatever followed them into power would be worse. (Although never say never. This is the Middle East, after all.) Unless I’m misremembering, support among righties for the failed Green Revolution in 2009 was nearly universal. Weird that none of that sentiment would show up in Jeb’s answer, unless of course Miller is truncating it unfairly.
Weirdest of all here, Jeb’s already expressed support for regime change elsewhere recently. Just yesterday he slapped the White House for giving away the farm in its negotiations with Cuba and not insisting on a change of leadership there somehow. If he’s worried about the public perceiving him as too much like Dubya, he should probably be shy about regime change across the board, not just in Iran, no? But I guess, faced with the threat of Rubio beating him in the Florida primary next year by consolidating Cuban-American voters, Jeb feels that he has no choice but to be maximally hawkish towards the Castros.
One other (remote) possibility to explain his Iran answer: Maybe, having seen the beating that Tom Cotton and Senate Republicans took from the media for supposedly undermining Obama’s Iran negotiations, Jeb decided that he didn’t want to be accused of the same thing by signaling at this delicate moment that he’d support deposing our new “partner in peace” as Obama’s successor. Hard to believe that’s what’s driving this, though, given that nearly every other major Republican enthusiastically supports it. If you’re an Iranian negotiator worried about whether the next president will honor O’s commitments to your country, having one guy out of a field of 20 hedge on the question shouldn’t reduce your concerns much.
Anyway. While you mull all that, and because it’s Friday, here’s the best thing on the Internet today — Matthew McConaughey channeling America’s collective reaction to the new “Star Wars” trailer. No hedging on Han or on Iran. That’s my motto.