John McCain responded to Barack Obama’s assertion that Iran presents an insignificant threat to the US based on its size. Speaking outside of his prepared remarks in Chicago this morning, McCain once again questioned Obama’s grasp on foreign relations and strategic thinking, especially six years after a band of terrorists killed 3,000 Americans in a coordinated operation that should have revamped threat assessment in every corner of the American political system:
Before I begin my prepared remarks, I want to respond briefly to a comment Senator Obama made yesterday about the threat posed to the United States by the Government of Iran. Senator Obama claimed that the threat Iran poses to our security is “tiny” compared to the threat once posed by the former Soviet Union. Obviously, Iran isn’t a superpower and doesn’t possess the military power the Soviet Union had. But that does not mean that the threat posed by Iran is insignificant. On the contrary, right now Iran provides some of the deadliest explosive devices used in Iraq to kill our soldiers. They are the chief sponsor of Shia extremists in Iraq, and terrorist organizations in the Middle East. And their President, who has called Israel a “stinking corpse,” has repeatedly made clear his government’s commitment to Israel’s destruction. Most worrying, Iran is intent on acquiring nuclear weapons. The biggest national security challenge the United States currently faces is keeping nuclear material out of the hands of terrorists. Should Iran acquire nuclear weapons, that danger would become very dire, indeed. They might not be a superpower, but the threat the Government of Iran poses is anything but ‘tiny”.
Senator Obama has declared, and repeatedly reaffirmed his intention to meet the President of Iran without any preconditions, likening it to meetings between former American Presidents and the leaders of the Soviet Union. Such a statement betrays the depth of Senator Obama’s inexperience and reckless judgment. Those are very serious deficiencies for an American president to possess. An ill conceived meeting between the President of the United States and the President of Iran, and the massive world media coverage it would attract, would increase the prestige of an implacable foe of the United States, and reinforce his confidence that Iran’s dedication to acquiring nuclear weapons, supporting terrorists and destroying the State of Israel had succeeded in winning concessions from the most powerful nation on earth. And he is unlikely to abandon the dangerous ambitions that will have given him a prominent role on the world stage.
This is not to suggest that the United States should not communicate with Iran our concerns about their behavior. Those communications have already occurred at an appropriate level, which the Iranians recently suspended. But a summit meeting with the President of the United States, which is what Senator Obama proposes, is the most prestigious card we have to play in international diplomacy. It is not a card to be played lightly. Summit meetings must be much more than personal get-acquainted sessions. They must be designed to advance American interests. An unconditional summit meeting with the next American president would confer both international legitimacy on the Iranian president and could strengthen him domestically when he is unpopular among the Iranian people. It is likely such a meeting would not only fail to persuade him to abandon Iran’s nuclear ambitions; its support of terrorists and commitment to Israel’s extinction, it could very well convince him that those policies are succeeding in strengthening his hold on power, and embolden him to continue his very dangerous behavior. The next President ought to understand such basic realities of international relations.
As Michael Goldfarb notes this morning at the Weekly Standard, even Democrats have started backpedaling away from Obama’s foreign policy. Joe Biden, Gary Hart, and Harold Ford all rejected the idea of unconditional presidential-level talks with Iran. All three tried to spin Obama’s statement into a conditional offer of unconditional talks, such as this quote from Hart: “I don’t think Barack Obama or any other President is going to meet with a head of state without lower-level discussions preceding that.”
But what would those lower-level discussions entail that current lower-level contacts do not? Wouldn’t basing this on agreements reached at the lower level mean an insistence on preconditions? Obama has cast this policy as a rejection of Bush’s policy, but without the unconditional talks still promised on his website, he’s essentially opted for the entire Bush policy:
Diplomacy: Obama is the only major candidate who supports tough, direct presidential diplomacy with Iran without preconditions. Now is the time to pressure Iran directly to change their troubling behavior. Obama would offer the Iranian regime a choice. If Iran abandons its nuclear program and support for terrorism, we will offer incentives like membership in the World Trade Organization, economic investments, and a move toward normal diplomatic relations. If Iran continues its troubling behavior, we will step up our economic pressure and political isolation. Seeking this kind of comprehensive settlement with Iran is our best way to make progress.
Memo to Obama: We have already offered WTO membership, an end to economic sanctions that prevent investment, and full diplomatic relations to Iran in exchange for an end to and a full accounting of their nuclear program. Iran rejected it, and so we have continued with economic and diplomatic pressure. The only difference between Bush and Obama is the notion that Obama would meet with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad without preconditions, which he and his allies now claim he won’t do even while his website says he will.
Perhaps he should take a few years to study the actual issues and the history of American policy on this subject before running for President. He seems inadequately prepared for serious consideration for stewardship of a foreign policy he clearly doesn’t understand.