By Dale McFeatters
The whole thing may yet come crashing down like the proverbial house of cards, but President Barack Obama's "leading from the rear" strategy has appeared to pay off in Libya; we are on track to depart Iraq at the end of next month, and it's a good bet many Americans don't care what happens there after we leave; and the Obama administration, with Osama bin Laden and his top aides dead, may yet successfully extricate the U.S. from Afghanistan.
All of these developments have left Republicans without one of their major campaign talking points: Democrats are soft on national security; Republicans are not.
Perhaps that explains why some of the GOP presidential candidates are needlessly bellicose on the question of Iran and its drawn-out quest to build a nuclear weapon.
Newt Gingrich was especially belligerent, vowing "maximum covert operations ... including taking out their scientists, including breaking up their systems. All of it covertly, all of it deniable," therefore guaranteeing that any operation the Iranians can blame on us is neither covert nor deniable.
At the same debate, Mitt Romney urged crippling sanctions ― most of which are already in place ― and supporting the insurgents to encourage regime change, even though open U.S. support only plays into regime arguments that the rebels are tools of the West. Said Romney: "If all else fails, if after all the work we have done, there is nothing else besides take military action, then of course you take military action."
By "military action," Romney means a war, our third in 10 years. And it would not be clean, surgical strikes from the sky. Iran has been arming for just such a confrontation for years. A serious military takedown would require, to use the current cliche, "boots on the ground." Only Ron Paul made the point that, according to the Constitution, Congress is supposed to have the final say on these matters.
The Republicans have been trying to outbid each other in support for Israel. We would, of course, defend Israel from any attack, but the government of Benjamin Netanyahu has openly discussed a pre-emptive strike against Iran's by-now-well-fortified nuclear facilities. This is perilously close to granting another country the power to declare war on our behalf.
As the Washington Post's Mideast expert, columnist David Ignatius, wrote, "The danger is that if the other side feels the conflict has already started, it will feel compelled to retaliate."
The Republicans, overwhelmed by their campaign rhetoric, should take care not to goad the Iranians into doing something stupid. The Iranians have been meddlesome, troublesome and prone to over-the-top rhetoric, but they have not been stupid ― at least, so far.
Dale McFeatters is an editorial writer of Scripps Howard News Service (www.scrippsnews.com).