From left: Texas Rep. Ron Paul, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich before taking part in a Republican presidential debate hosted by CNN and the Arizona Republican Party in Mesa, Ariz., on Feb. 22, 2012. (Photo: Eric Thayer / The New York Times)
Here we go again. With the economy showing faint signs of life and their positions on the social issues alienating most moderates, the leading Republican candidates, with the exception of Ron Paul, have returned to the elixir of warmongering to once again sway the gullible masses.
The race to the bottom has been set by Newt Gingrich, the most desperate of the lot, who on Tuesday charged that "the president wants to unilaterally weaken the United States" because his administration has dared question the wisdom of Israel attacking Iran and proposes a slight reduction in the bloated defense budget.
Let the good times roll, with a beefed-up military budget justified by plans to invade yet another Muslim country. As Paul warned during the South Carolina primary debate as his presidential rivals threatened war with Iran: "I'm afraid what's going on right now is similar to the war propaganda that went on against Iraq." Indeed, the shouting match over which of the other GOP candidates most wants a war with Iran is in sync with the last Republican president's 2003 invasion.
It was an invasion that removed Saddam Hussein, once the U.S. ally in confronting Iran, from power and replaced him with a Shiite leadership long beholden to the ayatollahs of Iran. Of course, as Bush lied, this was not about nation-building aimed at imposing a democracy in our image, but rather, as is the claim now, about preventing radical Muslims from getting their hands on a nuclear weapon. In a "Where's Waldo?" moment, it turned out that the dreaded nukes were not in Iraq, and the leading Republican presidential candidates are convinced that Iran now has such weapons and that they need to be taken out.
Not so, say CIA and Pentagon experts in these matters, who insist that Iran is some distance from developing a nuclear weapon, even if that is its intention. In a CNN interview Sunday, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stated that Iran had not yet decided whether to build a nuclear weapon. He also said the U.S. had told Israel that any Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities would be "destabilizing."
But such facts are not troubling to the GOP contenders, who seem not to have realized that there is one Muslim country already in possession of scores of such weapons. That would be Pakistan, the country Bush didn't invade despite its avid support for the Taliban sponsors of al-Qaida. Instead, after 9/11, Bush dropped the sanctions his predecessor, Bill Clinton, had imposed on Pakistan as punishment for its developing a nuclear arsenal. Nor did Bush and his fellow Republican hawks get overly exercised by the revelation that Pakistan was giving nuclear weapons technology to North Korea, Libya and, yes, Iran. It was also the hiding place for Osama bin Laden when Barack Obama made good on Bush's pledge to run the al-Qaida leader to ground.
If Bush had taken out bin Laden, the Republicans would have by now had W's head chiseled into Mount Rushmore, but since it is Obama's success, they are driven mad by this turn of events. On Tuesday, Gingrich came totally unglued, telling a student audience at Oral Roberts University that defeating Obama is "a duty of national security" because the president "is incapable of defending the United States."
Why? Simple. Obama has accepted the eminently sensible proposal endorsed by the Pentagon brass to trim $32 billion from the $655 billion defense budget in 2013. That small cut from a Cold War-style budget that accounts for 45 percent of world spending on the military despite there being no sophisticated military enemy now in sight for the U.S. was judged by Gingrich to render the president "willfully dishonest."
The idea of Newt Gingrich calling anyone else dishonest is an affront to reason, but, with the exception of Rep. Paul, those vying with the former House speaker for the nomination have been quick to indicate they are in full accord with the accusation. Gingrich's rabid support for the U.S. lining up behind an Israeli attack, even a nuclear one, may be explained by his campaign being kept afloat by a Nevada gambling billionaire who contributed $10 million to a pro-Gingrich super PAC and whose prime cause is the Israeli far-right. Rick Santorum offers biblical bromides for his support of Israeli militarism, and for Mitt Romney, the thirst for war just seems a natural extension of his innate say-anything opportunism. What a disreputable crew.