One of the things that hasn't been covered much coming out of the debate, is that McCain's Iran policy has turned to absolute gibberish. After the past few days, it appears that McCain's policy is that Iran developing nuclear technology is an urgent problem that must be stopped to avoid a second Holocaust. Therefore, we should build a new international institution that will take years and years to put together, so that it can deal with this urgent problem. Huh? Also, Obama's willingness to talk to Iran is hugely naive and is so dangerous that McCain cut an ad scaring the public about Obama's position and consistently opposes it. But McCain's advisor Henry Kissinger believes we should talk to Iran at the secretary of state level and somehow claims this is in line with McCain's view? On top of that, McCain's running mate was on TV last week essentially green lighting an Israeli strike on Iran. I'm really confused but let's walk through this in more detail.
At the debate McCain was asked what he would do about Iran. His response:
Now we cannot a second Holocaust. Let's just make that very clear. What I have proposed for a long time, and I've had conversation with foreign leaders about forming a league of democracies, let's be clear and let's have some straight talk. The Russians are preventing significant action in the United Nations Security Council.
I have proposed a league of democracies, a group of people - a group of countries that share common interests, common values, common ideals, they also control a lot of the world's economic power. We could impose significant meaningful, painful sanctions on the Iranians that I think could have a beneficial effect.
The Iranians have a lousy government, so therefore their economy is lousy, even though they have significant oil revenues. So I am convinced that together, we can, with the French, with the British, with the Germans and other countries, democracies around the world, we can affect Iranian behavior.
This is crazy. The United Nations was only created after much of the world was destroyed and the League of Nations had failed. And even that approach took very careful machinations on the part of Roosevelt and his advisors. It took four decades to create the EU and its still evolving and having hiccups along the way. And oh by the way, no one in the rest of the world has any desire to create the League of Democracies. Even once these organizations are set up, they have a very hard time acting in unison on anything that is at all controversial. Just because two countries are democracies doesn't mean they agree (See the run up to the Iraq War).
If the Iranian threat is as urgent as McCain claims it is. If most intelligence assessments agree that we are looking at Iran having a nuclear capability, if not an actual weapon, some time in the next 3-10 years. Why on earth would you waste years and years of time trying to build a new international institution that may or may not be able to address that problem? This is a pipe dream and a pretty roundabout and absurd way to try and increase economic pressure on the Iranians.
Then there is the question of talking or not talking. McCain's position is a continuation of the Bush strategy that Iran needs to meet certain preconditions regarding its uranium enrichment program before we will sit down and engage. Somehow this is in line with Henry Kissinger's position. But Henry Kissinger said the following a couple of weeks ago:
"Well, I am in favor of negotiating with Iran. And one utility of negotiation is to put before Iran our vision of a Middle East, of a stable Middle East, and our notion on nuclear proliferation at a high enough level so that they have to study it. And, therefore, I actually have preferred doing it at the secretary of state level so that we -- we know we're dealing with authentic..." Sesno: "Put at a very high level right out of the box?" Kissinger: "Initially, yes. And I always believed that the best way to begin a negotiation is to tell the other side exactly what you have in mind and what you are -- what the outcome is that you're trying to achieve so that they have something that they can react to. Now, the permanent members of the Security Council, plus Japan and Germany, have all said nuclear weapons in Iran are unacceptable. They've never explained what they mean by this. So if we go into a negotiation, we ought to have a clear understanding of what is it we're trying to prevent. What is it going to do if we can't achieve what we're talking about? But I do not believe that we can make conditions for the opening of negotiations. We ought, however, to be very clear about the content of negotiations and work it out with other countries and with our own government." (CNN's "Live Event," 9/20/08)
Obama's position is not as specific as Kissinger's. He argues instead for tough direct diplomacy, but he also argues that there needs to be preparation in advance and he hasn't committed to what level the talks would be at. The Obama position sure sounds a lot closer to Kissinger than McCain's insistence on preconditions and continued saber rattling. And it also sounds a lot closer to what other secretaries of state like James Baker and Colin Powell have been proposing. But Kissinger said this after the debate.
My views on this issue are entirely compatible with the views of my friend Senator John McCain. We do not agree on everything, but we do agree that any negotiations with Iran must be geared to reality.
So, has McCain had a dramatic shift on his willingness to negotiate and if he has why does he keep decrying Obama's position as so dangerous and naive? Alternatively, this just an attempt to paper over a differences between McCain and Kissinger and confuse the public while McCain's position remains the same as it's always been.
Finally, there is Sarah Palin's pretty frightening interview with Katie Couric where she essentially says that we should never second guess Israel, even if it chooses to bomb Iran.
Just to wrap up. McCain's policy is that we are going to put more economic pressure on Iran by magically creating an international institution that nobody wants, will take years to put together and may not even be able to achieve consensus. His direct diplomatic strategy is a total mystery if he has one at all. And his VP is basically giving Israel the green light to bomb while McCain has his own little history of singing songs about bombing Iran.
Some may disagree with Obama's approach that advocates tough direct talks with the Iranians combined with more concerted efforts to increase economic pressure on Iran. But at least it's rational and coherent, which is more than you can say for John McCain's position.