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Dan Coats vs. Obama on the Middle East

I spoke this morning with Dan Coats, former senator and ambassador to Germany and now the GOP front-runner in the Indiana senate race. Together with Charles Robb and Charles Ward Coats, he had authored two reports urging a firm timetable, sanctions that “bite,” and preservation of military options to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

After fifteen months of Obama’s attempts to engage Iran, I asked Coats if Obama’s policy was a failure. “Yes, it certainly has failed. Engagement has done nothing but buy time” for the mullahs to pursue their nuclear plans, he explained. He noted that during the Bush administration we deferred to our European allies. So, he concludes, “It has been almost a decade that we’ve been down this road. The open hand has been slapped back.” In essence, Iran has, he says, simply played the “rope-a-dope game.”

Is Secretary of Defense Robert Gates correct in warning that we lack a viable plan? Coats replies, “Yes. We are lacking a viable plan because they are lacking a commander in chief to order them to put together a viable plan.” He says that a nuclear-armed Iran is our “most imminent security challenge” and yet the administration seems unwilling to examine what a nuclear-armed Iran and a potential containment strategy would look like. The sanctions currently under discussion, he explains, are deficient. His reports argued for sanctions that “bite.” He says, “If Russia and China are outside the noose, they aren’t going to be effective.”

As for containment, Coats says that analogies to the Cold War are misplaced. Then, he recalls, we had “buffer states, a military prepared to deal with any breach, Pershing missiles, and 300,000 troops in Europe.” Moreover, he says, “Clearly, we are dealing with a much more unstable regime that has defied world opinion.”

I ask him whether the focus on the Palestinian “peace process” has distracted us from the Iranian threat or undermined the U.S.-Israel alliance. He says that with a nuclear-armed Iran “the very existence of Israel would be at stake.” He says that absent a more credible policy by the U.S., “Israel will be forced to act. It is unthinkable that the U.S. will passively stand aside [while Israel takes action].” He explains that “our credibility around the world” would be irreparably harmed as it became clear that the U.S. was unwilling to protect the security of any nation. As for the peace process, he says that “it is simply a cop out” to say that we need progress there in order to deal with the threats to Middle East peace. “I don’t for a moment think that even we had resolution [of the Palestinian conflict] we would have a kumbaya moment in the Middle East.” The mullahs have their own agenda and time table, he notes. “I’m not saying we shouldn’t pursue it [a resolution of the Palestinian conflict] but we have been pursuing it for half a century.”

Finally, I ask him about the Obama administration’s desire to return our ambassador to Syria. He says, “We are past that. What we need is the administration to stand up to the reality of what is taking place in the Middle East — to show resolve and to show strength.” He says the move conveys weakness and we risk sending the signal that “we are not prepared to defend Israel.” He reminds us that this president had promised to use “all” aspects of American power. But, he says, Obama is not “willing to use American power. They must be laughing at us in the councils of Iran. And Israel sits on a powder keg.” He closes by warning that it may now be too late to thwart the mullahs’ nuclear plans, “We’re going to read in a few months that the game is over.”

Coats provides a stark contrast to the happy talk one hears from Hillary Clinton and the other administration spinners. Should he win the primary, we will perhaps see a spirited debate on Obama’s Middle East policy, unless, of course, the Democratic nominee is willing to break with Obama as Chuck Schumer did. Other senate candidates will face a similar choice.


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