Romney Takes Eye Off Iran, Designates Russia #1 Geopolitical Foe

— by David Streeter

Yesterday, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney took his eye off of Iran and incorrectly designated Russia as America’s “number one geopolitical foe” during his interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. Romney offered his throwback to the Cold War while attacking President Barack Obama for his diplomacy with Russia — including the New START treaty that was supported by many Jewish communal organizations, which was one of the pieces that helped bring Russia on board with the fist round of Iran sanctions. Romney told Blitzer [emphasis added]:

What he did both on nuclear weaponry already and the new START treaty as well as his decision to withdraw missile defense sites from Poland and then reduce our missile defense sites in Alaska from the original plan. These are very unfortunate developments…. This is to Russia, this is without question our number one geopolitical foe. They fight every cause for the world’s worst actors. (Think Progress)

Blitzer followed up, and asked Romney how Russia was a greater U.S. foe than Iran. Apparently, Romney’s definition of “number one geopolitical foe” does not include Iran’s threatening behavior — including its nuclear weapons program and belligerent actions in the Middle East. Romney said [emphasis added]:

Well I’m saying in terms of a geopolitical opponent, the nation that lines up with the world’s worst actors. Of course the greatest threat the world faces is a nuclear armed Iran and a nuclear North Korea is troubling enough. But when these terrible actors pursue their course in the world and we go to the UN looking for ways to stop them … and who is it that always stands up for the world’s worst actors, it is always Russia, typically with China alongside. So in terms of a geopolitical foe a nation that is on the Security Council that has the heft of the Security Council and is of course a massive nuclear power, Russia is the geopolitical foe and the idea that our president is planning on doing something with them that he’s not willing to tell the American people before the election is something I find very, very alarming. (Think Progress)

Following Romney’s dangerous reassessment of global affairs-in which he prioritized a partisan sound bite over the reality of the threats posed by Iran to America and our allies-a number of experts and observers slammed Romney for yet another baseless foreign policy smear.

A sampling of criticism follows the jump.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney:

Carney, a former Moscow-based correspondent for TIME magazine, stated that ‘in a world where Al Qaeda is so clearly the preeminent threat to the United States, and similar organizations, it seems a little inaccurate to make that statement about Russia where Russia is a county that we have been able to cooperate with on very important issues even as we disagree with them on others and that includes missile defense and Syria.’…

Carney said ‘the relationship that president Obama has established with Russia when he pressed the reset button in 2009 has born a great deal of fruit, including Russia’s cooperation with China at the United Nations in sanctioning Iran, Russia’s cooperation and assistance to the United States on our Afghanistan mission in terms of trans-shipment issues.’

Representative Gerry Connolly (D-VA):

Mitt Romney’s statement that Russia is our ‘number one geopolitical foe’ was both reckless and inaccurate. While there are legitimate concerns about the status of Russian democracy under Putin and real challenges in our relationship, comments like this do nothing to address those concerns or strengthen that relationship. Governor Romney should correct his statement and make it clear he understands that Iran and North Korea pose the greatest immediate threat to U.S. and global security.

Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe General Wesley Clark said:

Surely one lesson of the 21st century is that America’s security in the world depends on making more friends and fewer enemies. Governor Romney’s statement sounds like a rehash of Cold War fears. Given the many challenges we face at home and abroad, the American people deserve a full and complete explanation from Governor Romney. Good policy does not come from bumper sticker slogans. The next president is going to have to take America forward, out of war, and into other challenges. The rekindling of old antagonisms hardly seems the way to do it.

Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East Dr. Colin Kahl:

Today, Governor Romney said that Russia is our nation’s number one geopolitical foe. Mitt Romney has an economic, energy, and social agenda of the last century-and now he has a foreign policy to match. Does Mitt Romney think Russia is a bigger threat to the U.S. today than a nuclear-armed Iran or the terrorists of al-Qaeda? Is Russia a greater challenge than a rising China or instability in the Middle East? For a country that Mitt Romney called our top geopolitical enemy, he only addresses Russia in his foreign policy white paper with Cold War-era talking points and none of the sense of urgency that he demonstrated today. This is yet another example of Mitt Romney’s willingness to say anything to get elected, no matter how reckless it may be.

Former Secretary of the Navy Richard Danzig:

Governor Romney offered his judgment today that Russia is our nation’s number one geopolitical foe. This conclusion, as outdated as his ideas on the economy, energy needs, and social issues, is left over from the last century.  Does Governor Romney believe that a Cold War foreign policy is the right course in the twenty-first century? Does he believe that Russia is a bigger threat to the U.S. today than terrorism, or cyberwarfare, or a nuclear-armed and erratic North Korea?

Oddly, before calling Russia our number one foe, he issued a foreign policy white paper that only got around to Russia after sections on China, Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Middle East, Iran, North Korea, and Latin America. His most recent statement is yet another revelation that Mitt Romney repeatedly speaks inconsistently and in ways that are disconnected from twenty-first century realities.

Former Ambassador to India and Representative Timothy Roemer:

Today, Governor Romney said that Russia is without question our nation’s number one geopolitical foe. Does Mitt Romney really believe that Russia-a country that has supported our international efforts to sanction Iran, for example-is a bigger threat to the U.S. today than a nuclear-armed Iran or al-Qaeda? Does he truly believe Russia is more of a challenge than a nuclear North Korea or the Straits of Hormuz being closed? I proudly served our nation overseas as Ambassador to India, and the level of naiveté about foreign relations that Governor Romney displays is astounding. Worse, it is potentially dangerous for our country.

DADT Repeal is now Official

Today was filled with historic votes:

  • the 9/11 Health Bill was passed unanimously by the Senate,
  • the Senate ratified the New START Treaty 71-26, and
  • President Barack Obama signed into law the repeal of the United States Defense Department’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

Video:

“Many of you probably remember the exchange earlier this year when Lt. Dan Choi gave Harry Reid his West Point ring and said he wouldn’t take it back until DADT was repealed. Today, Reid gave him the ring back. Powerful video.” (John Marshall – Talking Point Memo)

Reaction by the David A. Harris (NJDC) to these three historic events follows the jump.

The Invocation at the DADT Repeal Signing was given by Rabbi Arnold E. Resnicoff.

Rabbi Arnold E. Resnicoff is a consultant on interfaith values and interreligious affairs; a former line officer who served in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, followed by assignments with Naval Intelligence before attending rabbinical school; a retired Navy Chaplain who earned the Defense Superior Service Medal for his work with military and civilian leaders throughout Europe, Africa, and the Mid-East while serving as the Command Chaplain for the U.S. European Command;  and a former National Director of Interreligious Affairs for the American Jewish Committee.  From June 2005 to June 2006, he served as  Special Assistant (for Values and Vision) to the Secretary and Chief-of-Staff of the U.S. Air Force, with the equivalent military rank of Brigadier General.  Headquartered in the Pentagon, this appointment took him to Air Force bases in more than ten countries around the world, including those in Iraq, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates.  On June 16, 2006, Secretary of the Air Force Michael Wynne presented him with the USAF Decoration for Exceptional Civilian Service–the highest award that the Air Force can present to a civilian. In addition to rabbinic ordination, he has three masters degrees, in International Relations, Strategic Studies and National Security Affairs, and Rabbinics, and a doctorate from The Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) and Rep Todd Platts (R-PA) were the only Republican Congressmen in attendance.
— David A. Harris

Senate Passes 9/11 Health Bill

The Senate voted to pass a bill that would “cover the cost of medical care for rescue workers and others who became sick from breathing in toxic fumes, dust and smoke after the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center.”

The New York Times reported:

The vote, passed by unanimous consent, came soon after a deal was reached between conservative Republicans and Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand. The New York Democrats agreed to changes demanded by the conservative lawmakers, who raised concerns about the measure’s cost and prevented the bill from advancing in the Senate. After drawing criticism in recent days from Democrats and Republicans alike, the Republican senators backed down.

NJDC, alongside so many others in the American Jewish community, was a vocal advocate for health care reform in our country. We applaud the Senate for taking yet another step forward in improving our health care system and honoring the brave men and women who risked their lives to save the lives of others. NJDC also thanks Senators Schumer and Gillibrand for their unwavering commitment to see this important bill passed.

START Treaty

Today’s ratification of the New START treaty by the Senate is yet another step forward in securing our country and helping to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions. While the treaty’s effects on strengthening the U.S.-Russia relationship are significant and monumental in their own right, the New START treaty will ultimately bolster the ability of the United States and Russia to jointly confront Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

With Iran at the top of the pro-Israel agenda, NJDC was at the forefront of urging the American Jewish community to lend a voice to the debate over the treaty. In mid-November NJDC issued a statement to community leaders saying ‘The time has come for those in the American Jewish community who care deeply about confronting Iran to help pass START now. We can do no less, and we have no time to wait.’ We are proud that our communal effort helped to shine light on the importance of ratifying this crucial treaty.

We commend President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden for their leadership in making New START a top priority, and we applaud the Democratic Senate leadership – working together with key Republicans, including Senator Richard Lugar – for pushing forward the effort to ratify the treaty despite opposition and excuses from a small Republican minority who defiantly stood against the recommendations of our military leadership. Ultimately, Senators on both sides of the aisle understood the importance of ratifying this treaty for our own security – and that it will help to continue our efforts to protect the global community from a nuclear-armed Iran.”

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Signing

With the East Room and other key real estate at the White House taken up with holiday decorations and tours, this morning’s presidential signing of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010 has been moved a few blocks away to the Sidney R. Yates Auditorium at the U.S. Department of the Interior. The auditorium is packed with a who’s-who of the leadership within the gay rights and civil rights communities, and a wide array of figures who were essential in bringing about this long, long overdue policy change-including many key members of the House and Senate. The moving opening invocation-delivered by Rabbi Arnold Resnicoff-reminded us all of the many who had served before who had to hide their identities. President Barack Obama received nothing short of a star welcome, replete with chants of “yes we can” and shouts of thanks from the gathered crowd. The President spoke about the critical and historic nature of this moment, and he praised at length all of those who helped to bring this moment about-including the leadership of our military, and especially Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen who was on hand for the signing. As the President said just before signing, we are not a nation that says “don’t ask, don’t tell”-we are a nation that believes all are created equal. And as he firmly declared to cheers as he completed his signature, “This is done.”

Much ink has been spilled about the state of relations between President Obama and the GLBT community-perhaps as much as has been used in writing about relations between the White House and the Jewish community. But this morning the President made good on yet another key campaign pledge, as he helped our nation make another significant stride forward in civil rights and equality. Before long, openly gay and lesbian service members who wish to stand in defense of their country will be able to do so-making this a good day indeed.

Today’s vote to repeal the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy that prohibited gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans from serving openly in our nation’s armed forces is truly historic. The repeal sends a clear message that any willing and able American can and should be allowed to proudly serve our country. As a world leader, it was appalling that we allowed legal and public discrimination to take place against some of the brave men and women who volunteered to serve their country on the field of battle. We applaud President Barack Obama for shining a bright light on this issue, and we commend the leadership of both the House and Senate for protecting the rights of gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans.

This legislative step was a demonstration that good policy-doing the right thing-can also make for good politics. Indeed, Saturday’s vote to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell” is truly historic. This step sends a clear message that any willing and able American can and should be allowed to proudly serve our country. As a world leader, it was appalling that we allowed legal and public discrimination to take place against some of the brave men and women who volunteered to serve their country on the field of battle. President Obama-and the House and Senate leadership-are to be commended for shining a bright light on this issue, and for their leadership when it comes to protecting the rights of gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans. And when history looks back at the naysayers who tried to block the march of progress-those like Sen. John McCain, who would not accept the verdict of the top leaders of today’s military, let alone the voices of the clear majority of those serving both in and out of uniform-it will not be kind.

If You Are Worried About Iran, Help Pass START Now

— Marc R. Stanley, Michal M. Adler and David A. Harris

So many in the American Jewish community – reflecting Israel’s leaders – are rightly gravely concerned about the dangers posed by Iran. Indeed Iran has become the foremost issue on the pro-Israel agenda. What if there was a measure with bipartisan support facing the United States Senate that could help contain Iran – and only days left to pass it? What if a handful of members were working to stymie progress on this measure?

In reality, there is precious little time to pass the START treaty in the waning days of the 111th Congress. Despite the leadership of President Barack Obama and Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Richard Lugar (R-IN), a small group of senators – led by Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) – seem intent on blocking this paramount treaty… some, perhaps, for political reasons. Yet the stakes are simply too great for politics to get in the way.

The arms reduction and verification aspects are plenty important. But what passing START will mean for the improving U.S.-Russia relationship – and our joint cooperation on confronting Iran – is even more crucial. As scholar Michael O’Hanlon noted yesterday in listing the reasons to pass START, ‘Most of all, the U.S.-Russia relationship is now helping apply greater pressure on Iran. Moscow has agreed to far tighter United Nations Security Council sanctions on Iran’s high-technology trade, and it recently refused to sell Tehran advanced surface-to-air missiles.’

Can anyone deny that Russian cooperation is essential to ensuring a nuclear-free Iran? Can anyone deny that not passing START will be a dramatic blow to U.S.-Russian relations – and a disaster in terms of our Iran policy? Where is the outcry? Our actions – in this case, our action or inaction on START – will have profoundly important repercussions.

The time has come for those in the American Jewish community who care deeply about confronting Iran to help pass START now. We can do no less, and we have no time to wait. We must lend our voices to the debate now.

In convening an extraordinary meeting in the White House today, placing a brilliant spotlight on this issue, President Obama explained the reasons as clearly as possible when he noted that ‘this goes beyond nuclear security. Russia has been fundamental to our efforts to put strong sanctions in place to put pressure on Iran to deal with its nuclear program. …We cannot afford to gamble on our ability to verify Russia’s strategic nuclear arms. And we can’t jeopardize the progress that we’ve made in securing vulnerable nuclear materials, or in maintaining a strong sanctions regime against Iran. These are all national interests of the highest order.’

As a community, we simply must lend our voices and help pass START now. We can do no less.