Last night, John McCain and Barack Obama put Iran firmly back in the "Axis of Evil" as far as future US policy is concerned - although at least Obama would talk to the Iranians before bombing them.
I find myself at odds with most opinion about last night's Presidential foreign policy debate. I didn't think Barack Obama showed himself well, but maybe that's because I'm used to seeing Republicans play freely with the facts while I expect more from Obama. Yet both seems to equally prefer a constructed narrative on Iran over the opinions of experts.
McCain's contention that "the Iranians continue on the path to the acquisition of a nuclear weapon as we speak tonight" Obama agreed wholeheartedly with, saying that "have gone from zero centrifuges to 4,000 centrifuges to develop a nuclear weapon". Both thereby ignored a recent International Atomic Energy Agency report that said they've found no smoking gun for a current Iranian weapons program, that any program that did exist was cancelled years ago and in any case was only in its earliest stages, and that no nuclear material can be diverted to weapons production without the Agency knowing about it. They also ignored the most recent National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, which said exactly the same things.
Then there was McCain's claim that "the Iranians are putting the most lethal IEDs into Iraq". Obama should have challenged that. The last time the US military tried to trot out "proof" for this claim, it was so laughably inadequate that even Bob Gates and then Chair of the Joint Chiefs General Pace refused to embrace it. Since then, repeated promises to provide new proof have failed to materialize.
And finally, McCain made a possibly-Freudian slip when he labeled the Revolutionary Guards as the Republican Guards (after all, who knows theo-crazies like Republicans?) and said that they trained "special forces' in Iraq who were killing US soldiers. Obama backed him up 100%, saying "I believe the Republican Guard of Iran is a terrorist organization". It's the first regular military force ever to be so designated.
Again, there's a long way to go to prove that's actually the case - a lot of the 'evidence' is based upon interrogations, and we know how 'enhanced interrogation' gets such marvellously reliable evidence - and even casualty figures attributed to those groups have been dubious to say the least too. That the IRGC is actively involved in training Iraqi militias is probably the most reliable of the narratives both agreed to on Iran - but neither said outright that the bulk of those militias belong to Maliki's allies, the ISCI and Badr factions of pro-Iranian Shiites.
Obama at least got that part right:
ironically, the single thing that has strengthened Iran over the last several years has been the war in Iraq. Iraq was Iran's mortal enemy. That was cleared away. And what we've seen over the last several years is Iran's influence grow.
But it still worries me that, after all the kerfuffle about whether or not he would talk to Iran "without preconditions", the end results of any talks not going America's way would be an eventual attack. No question about it.
Senator McCain is absolutely right, we cannot tolerate a nuclear Iran. It would be a game changer. Not only would it threaten Israel, a country that is our stalwart ally, but it would also create an environment in which you could set off an arms race in this Middle East.
Back to my first misgiving: what nuclear weapons? But isn't it also true that if an Iranian bomb would trigger a regional arms race then the already real and actual Israeli bomb must have already triggered one too? Yet Israel's nuclear weapons weren't mentioned at all, by either candidate. Every other nation in the regions says its a problem that must be addressed, but somehow it never is.
John McCain came out ahead on points as the most belligerent saber-rattler on the stage last night, but it was close.
A massive thank you goes to the industrious Heather, who works hard in the backroom bringing us all video clips.