Romney’s muddled Middle Eastern geography

Syria is Iran's route to the sea

Since at least last December, Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney has insisted that Syria is Iran’s “route to the sea.”

He has said this publicly at least seven times, the most recent being during Monday night’s debate.

Once, consider it a slip of the tongue. At least seven times? Sticking to message.

But what is the message?

Well, one message is that a politician can keep repeating a blatant falsehood related to foreign policy. Your base could care less. And the news media? They don’t seem to care, either. Oh, wait, we went down that road in 2002-2003, with “weapons of mass destruction.”

Romney adds that Syria is Iran’s sole ally, which seems to be the only reason news organizations don’t rap his knuckles. Then he criticizes the current administration for … not being more involved in Syria’s democratic movement. But we can’t send troops, of course. But we can arm the citizenry. (Vietnam, anyone? Afghanistan, anyone?)

He talks a tough line about dealing with Middle Eastern leaders and then says, in talking about Iran, that he’s going to follow Ronald Reagan’s policies.

Now that’s a slip of memory. Iran-Contra, anyone?

Check out the Storify: it’s me channeling Jon Stewart.


42 Comments

  1. the question is…

    if you gave Romney a blank map of the middle east…. could he point to Iran? I doubt it.

    there is an obvious ignorance of the middle east there, but again, i blame his campaign people for having their heads up their butts when they allowed him to say that one.

  2. I think he just loves the phrase. I’ll bet we get to hear him say again before the election!

  3. The explanation given by his campaign after previous uses of the phrase is that he specifically means the Mediterranean Sea.

    It is odd phraseology esp since he has got to know that it will raise questions about his geographical literacy. I can only assume that this is a dog whistle phrase- I’m guessing that this might be something that Israelis and Zionist jews in the US might say or recognize, as a way to point out the strategic importance of Syria if war between Israel and Iran becomes a reality.

  4. “The explanation given by his campaign after previous uses of the phrase is that he specifically means the Mediterranean Sea.”

    Provide either Turkey or Iraq, neither great friends of Iran, allow passage.

    The qualifier “He meant the Med” is just as nonsensical especially given recent tension between Turkey and Iran and Iraq’s deep hatred of the regime and dependence on US support.

    It wasn’t a dog whistle phrase. It was basically shouting that he had no concept of what he was talking about.

  5. I don’t think Iran having contiguous transit is the point though Davebo. Syria is a base for Hezbollah, and all Iran has to do is finance it. Money can always flow,without direct contact..

  6. the fact that Iran has direct access to two different seas and must go through another country to get to the Med… well, that makes the statement pretty stupid.

    CS, is correct…what they are doing is trying to link Syria and Iran (not that they need any more linking).
    Considering the current rhetoric from the Rep party, they probably plan to argue that we need to invade both countries. Which like Bush, Romney will hand over to some neocon retard who will get around 10,000 of our military personnel killed.

    Foreign policy is important people. Iraq will end up costing us 1+ trillion… tell me that doesn’t hurt our economy.

  7. If Bush/Cheney had never orchestrated that idiotic and costly invasion, Iran and Iraq would still likely be expending most of their energy and focus on each other. So what idiotic and costly war is Romney fantasizing about for his own legacy?

  8. Z, I think the problem is that Romney, like Bush, would hand over foreign policy to some neocon war monger and then walk away. I doubt Romney has plans to invade anyone…the Republican Party, a different story.

  9. “It is generally recognized that Syria offers Iran strategic basing/staging access to the Mediterranean as well as to terrorist proxies in the Levant. This is a large reason why Iran invests so much in Syria.”
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/.....o-the-sea/

    Romney knows his maps, and knows there is no direct route to the Med. You can disagree with him but no need to insult his geographical knowledge:
    “Romney’s comments are more accurate than they first seem,” citing a news report that Iran was building an army base in Syria and quoting an expert on the importance of Syria to Iran.”

    Furthering his theory: “We also checked with other experts, many of whom confessed to being puzzled by Romney’s comments. Tehran certainly uses Syria to supply the militant groups Hezbollah and Hamas, but that has little to do with the water. The relationship with Syria could also effectively allow Iran to project its power to the Mediterranean and the border with Israel.”

  10. I think you’re right Shannon. To the extent the GOP could control Romney (an easy bet I think) the results could overshadow even the Iraq debacle. The best way to make sure this never happens is to keep power OUT of the hands of the neocons, OUT of the hands of the chickenhawks. The LAST thing our country needs is another costly war on credit.

  11. DDuck Iran and Syria dont even touch. I’ll give you that Iran seriously influences Syria, but Romney’s statement was patently false. You can try to talk it better, but the words that came of his mouth were factually wrong.

  12. SL, did you read the article? And they do touch strategically as do Venezuela and Iran.
    Don’t you read Tom Clancy. Iran smuggles a nuclear device into Syria, no they aren’t contiguous and Mitt and you know it, Syria then gives it to Hezbollah at or near the SEA and threatens Israel by land or by SEA.

  13. Bridge to somewhere and the sea.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09.....&_r=0
    It’s called Iraq, which DOES touch Iran and Syria. Since Iran is supplying arms to Syria, how difficult would it be to supply a nuclear device to Hezbollah?

  14. DDuck, yes, you can twist logic into a pretzel and make any two counties “touch”. A case can be made that Iran is, or was, supporting Syria. I think the real reason they use that phrase is much more simple:

    1- The Romney campaign are trying to link, in the minds of voters, Iran and Syria. Which is pretty much what CS said above.

    2- As to the geography quiz, how many of your average Americans would be able to point to Iran or Syria on a blank map?

    They are hoping the average voter will hear “Iran-and-Syria”, irregardless of geography, enough times that it forms a link in their minds. Come on guys, it’s the old trick the GW Bush’s team used; “Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth.”

  15. Since Iran is supplying arms to Syria, how difficult would it be to supply a nuclear device to Hezbollah?

    It would be impossible… Iran DOES NOT HAVE a nuclear device.

  16. SteveK, they don’t yet (that we know of) but they are working on it. However, regardless of who won in 2008, they’d be “Four Years” closer to one today.

  17. SteveK, they don’t yet (that we know of) but they are working on it. However, regardless of who won in 2008, they’d be “Four Years” closer to one today.

    Rambie – If you, or anybody, know this as a documented, provable fact I sure would like to see this proof.

    Edit to add: Iran’s possession of Nuclear Weapons fall in the same category as Israel’s lack of Nuclear Weapons… Mythology.

  18. I did not think that was actually up for debate. I do believe that Iran is working on nuclear weapons.

  19. It’s not up for debate because you believe it to be true?

    “Faith, n. Belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel.” – Ambrose Bierce

  20. Sorry, guess I wasn’t clear Steve.

    I didn’t know there was a debate about Iran working on Nuclear weapons. I believed it was an accepted point.

    I myself, do believe they are working on nuclear weapons, just like N Korea was when they kept denying it.

    If they are not, then all the better. I’d rather error on the side that Iran is working on it than they are not.

  21. I had forgotten about this:
    http://www.boston.com/news/wor.....terranean/

    Clearly the Iranians do either seek a real or (most likely) symbolic presence in the Mediterranean,

    Google “Iran builidng permanent base in Syria” and you’ll see that the Zionist zealots are claiming this is happening. That is what I meant when I called Romney’s comment a ‘dog whistle.’

  22. CS, you hit a homer again. Great link.

    “There is already some indication that Sunni insurgents in Iraq have tried to coordinate with Syrian fighters to set off a regional sectarian war, Iraqi tribal leaders said. ”
    “It has unsuccessfully pressed Iraq to halt flights from Iran that traverse Iraqi airspace to ferry weapons and fighters to the Assad government, although The Associated Press reported that over the weekend a government spokesman said Iraq would begin random searches of Iranian aircraft.”

  23. Wikipedia – Islamic Republic of Iran Navy

    What the Iran Navy has…
    In terms of major surface ships, Iran relies on its Alvand Class Frigates as well as the new Jamaran-Class Frigates which indigenously developed in Iran is a reverse engineered Alvand Class with Modern Electronics and Radar and Armament.

    Iran’s three destroyers are over 50 years old and are kept in material reserve at Bushehr.

    The Iranian Navy does not include capital ships; their largest ships are five frigates and three corvettes, all of which are armed with modern anti-ship missiles.

    This breaks down to:
    3 – 50 year old destroyers
    0 (zero) – Capital ships
    5 – Frigates
    3 – Corvettes

    But hey… they also have
    35 – Helicopters
    8 – Transport Aircraft

    And they have thousands of pangas, Zodiacs and Avalons and rocks like nobodies business.

  24. DD –> from your own article (yes I read that one before you linked to it)

    Tehran certainly uses Syria to supply the militant groups Hezbollah and Hamas, but that has little to do with the water.

    You can use a concrete statement “route to the sea” as a METAPHOR.

  25. I’m curious. All you folks who are worried about Iran’s possible nuclear arsenal… with the “and they are four years closer!” FUD … JUST WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DO?

    Invade them like we did Iraq?

    I mean, really. How the hell do you think that the United States of America — all by it’s pretty lonesome — is going to stop them? Romney certainly has no specifics. “we love and support Israel” is not a specific.

    JUST HOW LONG has Iran been working on nuclear stuff? Since the 50s, when (wait for it), we helped them.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/N.....am_of_Iran

    So, 60 years. And still no nuclear bomb.

    Just how credible is this threat … to anything other than sowing enough FUD to get hawks elected to Congress and the White House?

  26. Correction

    DD –> from your own article (yes I read that one before you linked to it)

    Tehran certainly uses Syria to supply the militant groups Hezbollah and Hamas, but that has little to do with the water.

    You can’t use a concrete statement “route to the sea” as a METAPHOR.

  27. TM, you can’t, I can. Like I heard: I know what Jack met her for, and it’s the same thing Iran has been doing to us for a long time. The route to the sea is through, or over Iraq, the same as the weapons route to the Syrian government.

  28. Can you name the last US president who mistaken Iran for Iraq? Two large wars and a major party candidate still doesn’t know the difference?!

  29. KG, Iraq might just become a long drive to the Syrian beach:
    “The deal includes provisions for using Iraq as a transshipment point for weapons supplied by Moscow and Tehran and headed to Syria, to help its besieged regime withstand the popular uprising that has been going on since March of last year. Some of the weapons will also go to Lebanese Hezbullah, as Maliki believes that the survival of his regime is tied to Hezbullah’s continued presence in Lebanon and the survival of Bashar al-Assad. The reason Iraq is being encouraged to step up is that Iran, the main sponsor of Assad and Hezbullah, has an economy nearing collapse due to global oil sanctions imposed as a result of Tehran’s nuclear program.”

    http://worldmeets.us/ http://www.worldmeets.us/alira.....z2AALEyj6B

  30. STOP!! If Mitt Romney (and I am sort of willing to give him the benefit of the doubt) does, in fact, know that Syria and Iran do not share a geographical border, then he made a major debate gaffe. When in a debate, particularly one in front of the American people (notoriously horrible in geography), one wants to use a metaphor, one HAS GOT TO mention it as such! Romney did not say, “Metaphorically speaking…” That leaves him open to the charge of either gross incompetence or gross negligence. Take your pick, either one is not flattering.

  31. Correct, Rc.

  32. Just how credible is this threat … to anything other than sowing enough FUD to get hawks elected to Congress and the White House?

    The military threat Iran poses to the United States is effectively zero. They’re not even the strongest military power in the region by a long shot. We could park an aircraft carrier off their coast that has more firepower than their entire navy and air force combined.

    The nuclear threat posed by Iran is absolutely zero. They have no weapon, no delivery system even if they had a weapon, and even if they had both, we could deter the use of any such weapon by parking a nuclear missile sub off their coast that would be carrying more nuclear warheads atop one missile than they could ever hope to build.

    The terrorist threat to the United States by Iran is not quite zero, but it is vastly smaller than portrayed by the people who seem so intent on invading Iran. As far as terrorism goes, the truth is that Iran is strictly a regional player. Their reach extends to Syria, Lebanon, and the Occupied Territories, and that’s about it. Yes, they support Hezbollah, but for all the terrible things Hezbollah does, they are not a worldwide terrorist organization like Al Qaeda, and they certainly aren’t in the business of carrying on jihad against the United States.

    Now someone will no doubt come along shortly and replay the doomsday scenario of IF Iran gets a nuke, what IF they hand it to a terrorist, and what IF they use it in a suicide attack against (fill in the blank)?

    To which I’d say, name me the last Iranian suicide bomber. More importantly, give me the name of the last Iranian ayatollah to martyr himself. I’m fairly confident nobody can answer these questions, because suicide bombings are not something Iranians are known for, and the ayatollahs are most definitely not into dying for the cause. In fact Iranians are not that terribly belligerent at all…you have to go back to when the country was called “Persia” to find an instance of them attacking another nation directly.

  33. Well this is certainly a different take on our problems in the Middle East. By author William F. Engdahl. His take is that natural gas is the new oil and Israel is more concerned about controlling it than in Nukes being shipped in from Iran.

    [The significant question to be asked at this point is what could bind Israel, Turkey, Qatar in a form of unholy alliance on the one side, and Assad’s Syria, Iran, Russia and China on the other side, in such deadly confrontation over the political future of Syria? One answer is energy geopolitics. Huge gas resource discoveries in Israel, in Qatar and in Syria combined with the emergence of the EU.

    Syria-Iran-Iraq Gas pipeline

    In July 2011, as the NATO and Gulf states’ destabilization operations against Assad in Syria were in full swing, the governments of Syria, Iran and Iraq signed an historic gas pipeline energy agreement which went largely unnoticed amid CNN reports of the Syrian unrest. The pipeline, envisioned to cost $10
    billion and take three years to complete, would run from the Iranian Port Assalouyeh near the South Pars gas field in the Persian Gulf, to Damascus in Syria via Iraq territory. Iran ultimately plans then to extend the pipeline from Damascus to Lebanon’s Mediterranean port where it would be delivered to EU
    markets. Syria would buy Iranian gas along with a current Iraqi agreement to buy Iranian gas from Iran’s part of South Pars field.

    South Pars, whose gas reserves lie in a huge field that is divided between Qatar and Iran in the Gulf, is believed to be the world’s largest single gas field. De facto it would be a Shi’ite gas pipeline from Shi’ite Iran via Shi’ite-majority Iraq onto Shi’ite-friendly Alawite Al-Assad’s Syria.

    The battle for the future control of Syria is at the heart of this enormous geopolitical war and tug of war. Its resolution will have enormous consequences for either world peace or endless war and conflict and slaughter. NATO member Turkey is playing with fire as is Qatar’s Emir, along with Israel’s
    Netanyahu and NATO members France and USA. Natural gas is the flammable ingredient that is fueling this insane scramble for energy in the region

    http://www.engdahl.oilgeopolit.....%20War.pdf

    Suggestion – Start on page 2 – The geopolitical dimension.

  34. Only a Republican can say that Iran needs Syria to get to the sea and then have half the country (Republicans) believe it (and even defend Romney) and the other half (non-Republicans) believe the maps. Jesus, no wonder the Republican Party is filled with people who believe that woman can stop rapists sperm from impregnating them, or that it is fine to enshrine hate and discrimination in the US Constitution, denying some rights to citizens, or women do not deserve equal pay for equal work, or it is fine to let children starve to death.

    If Romney wanted to let the country know that Iran was building a military presence in Syria and he wants to stop it, then he should just say so. How on earth is it shorthand that “Syria is Iran’s route to the sea” really means, “Iran wants to establish a military base in Syria and bomb the crap out of Israel”?

    Lastly, if he had said that Syria was Iran’s route to the sea at least seven times and was criticized for his statement, he would have made himself clearer the next time he spoke on the subject. After all he is running for president and it is his responsibility to make himself clear on his positions. But then again we’ve seen Romney backtrack, flip flop and wiggle around so much that we know he doesn’t believe clarity is important.

    BTW: The article that CStanley linked to just proves that Iran doesn’t need Syria…. nor does Iran even USE Syria as a conduit… to get to the Mediterranean. So how is Romney (or advisors) even right that Romney meant that Syria is Iran’s route to the Mediterranean?

    What really concerns me about Romney’s ignorance on Iranian geography (and Romney has not shown anyone that he actually knows his geography)… what concerns me is that the Strait of Hormuz is on the southern edge of Iran. The Strait of Hormuz is strategically important because over a third of the world’s oil traded by sea passes through the strait. If we go to war with Iran then Iran could very well block/close the Strait of Hormuz, sending oil prices sky high. This is why Romney (if he’s elected as president) needs to be extra careful when bellowing at Iran. Romney is not dictator of the world, as he comes across as. Just because he tells someone to do something doesn’t mean that they will do it. And while the 1% might be able to personally afford high oil prices, their businesses can not, nor can the 99%.

    What scares me is Romney’s ignorance of world affairs, bellicosity and lack of concern for most Americans’ economic troubles. The only reason Romney can even claim he kept up with Obama during the foreign policy debate is because Romney took Obama’s positions and did not have to come up with an original position… or defend his own foreign policy positions. You can bet that Romney has his own foreign policy positions and they are very different than Obama’s. But Romney could not afford to open himself up to any criticism over his positions, so he chose to stay silent. Coward.

  35. TW: The article that CStanley linked to just proves that Iran doesn’t need Syria…. nor does Iran even USE Syria as a conduit… to get to the Mediterranean. So how is Romney (or advisors) even right that Romney meant that Syria is Iran’s route to the Mediterranean?

    Stockboy- that transit only happened because of Egypt (which controls passage through the Suez canal) being in transition. Previously (Feb 2011 I think) Iran had tried and failed to get through, when Mubarek’s govt was still clinging to power. In the months right after the Egyption govt fell, Iran again tried the display, and this time was successful.

    The point is that having a permanent naval base on the Mediterranean would give them unfettered access. Note that this also applies to your comment about the Strait of Hormuz. We worry about Iran’s ability to block that passage but we also know that the US and our allies can blockqde it too, to prevent Iranian ships from passing. That advantage would be lost if Iran efectively controlled the eastern Mediterranean.

    Of course Iran having the ability to build up to that is highly unlikely under the current sanctions. But it depends on whether one believes that Russia is going to play by the rules or not.

    As to the cryptic nature of Romney’s comments….I don’t know why he keeps saying it this way. Note though that I’m not putting forth a very flattering explanation. I’m suggesting that he might be trying to say this in a coded way to wink at a rather unsavory group among the GOP base.

  36. By the sea, by the sea by the beautiful sea, Assad and Ahmadinejad how happy they’d be.
    Thanks for that info Ohio. Pipeline to the sea is better than route to the sea, see.

    Question, is it easier to build a dirty truck/ship nuclear bomb then a missile born one?

  37. Just how credible is this threat … to anything other than sowing enough FUD to get hawks elected to Congress and the White House?

    Exactly. The real threat comes from the people who continue to flaunt the mindset that threw us into Iraq. Take a moment and consider what the republican fear mongering machine has accomplished in the last dozen years. It is shameful. They most certainly do NOT deserve the keys to the White House until they have demonstrated they deserve the trust of citizens. They’ve done nothing to earn that trust so far.

  38. Z, you can’t “demonstrate” anything when you are a candidate. Look at all that bull that candidate Obama gave us. We can only judge by their demonstrations IN the WH, the rest is potential malarkey.

  39. Well this is certainly a different take on our problems in the Middle East. By author William F. Engdahl. His take is that natural gas is the new oil and Israel is more concerned about controlling it than in Nukes being shipped in from Iran.

    Sorry but he lost me at ‘Brookings=neocons”.

  40. C S

    That’s why I suggested starting on page 2 – The geopolitical dimension. He’s definitely a radical, but his information is still interesting – some things I didn’t know.

  41. I agree it is an interesting angle and the article seemed pretty plausible despite his rather odd perspective.

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