Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate leader, delivered a similar critique earlier this year:
Upon taking office, President Obama took several steps to pursue negotiations with Iran. He famously suggested that if countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fist, they'll find an extended hand from us. He recorded a YouTube message to the Iranian people. He also reportedly wrote a letter to Iran's Supreme Leader inviting him to talk without preconditions on the basis of mutual respect. This was the engagement phase. … But instead of using this period to demonstrate progress, Iran used it to continue enriching uranium and to divide the international community.
Romney applied the same diagnosis to Moscow:
"As part of the so-called reset in policy, missile defenses were sacrificed as a unilateral concession to the Russian government. If that gesture was designed to inspire good will from Russia, it clearly missed the mark. The Russian government defended the dictator in Damascus, arming him as he slaughtered the Syrian people. … In the end, it is resolve that moves events in our direction, and strength that keeps the peace."
Romney, McConnell, Boehner, and Cantor aren’t talking about themselves, of course. They’re talking about leaders of other countries. But in doing so, they illuminate their own thinking. Every interpretation of another person’s behavior relies in part on projection. And because you aren’t talking about yourself, you don’t apply the usual layers of deception. That’s why the best clue to a politician’s thinking isn’t what he says about his own motives. It’s what he says about his opponent’s motives.
It may be true in Tehran, Damascus, Cairo, or Moscow that it’s better to be feared than loved. But it’s certainly true in Washington. That’s why voting for Romney to appease the Republican right is such a bad idea. “The Republican strategy to deny the president any cooperation and make his Washington a depressing and dysfunctional place has done Obama enormous political damage,” Klein observes. “While it’s true that President Romney could expect more cooperation from congressional Republicans, in the long term, a vote against Obama on these grounds is a vote for more of this kind of gridlock. … If this strategy wins Republicans the election, they’ll employ it next time they face a Democratic president, too.”
Cantor, Boehner, and McConnell couldn’t have said it better themselves. It’s resolve that moves events. Outreach, concession, and accommodation failed. What we need now is less carrot and more stick. On Tuesday, you’re the stick.
William Saletan's latest short takes on the news, via Twitter: