Bob Barr got back to his anti-war roots yesterday, calling the prospect of U.S. military action against Iran “unnecessary, counterproductive, costly and dangerous.”
In condemning the Bush administration’s bellicose stance toward Tehran, the Libertarian presidential candidate was joined at a Capitol Hill press conference by a liberal roster that included Democratic Reps. Lynn Woolsey and Barbara Lee of California, Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas and Marcy Kaptur of Ohio. There was even an appearance by a contingent of activists from Code Pink, the distaff demonstrators infamous for their disruptive tactics.
The leftist crowd at yesterday’s event — organized by a coalition called the Campaign for a New American Policy in Iran — might have seemed an odd milieu for the former Georgia Republican. On the other hand, it could be seen a flashback to Barr’s undergraduate days at the University of Southern California.
Arriving at USC in 1966, the Iowa native joined the Young Democrats on campus and was soon active in protests against the Vietnam War.* Barr eventually became disillusioned with the peace movement, however — he has said that reading Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged convinced him of Communism’s totalitarian menace — and by the time he graduated in 1970, he was an all-out Republican.
What a long, strange trip it’s been for Barr to have come full-circle to yesterday’s scene in front of the Cannon House Office Building.
“There is no imminent threat [from Iran] and only an imminent threat can ever justify a preemptive strike,” Barr told reporters, with the Capitol dome looming behind him as a camera-friendly backdrop.
NOT ALL THE speakers at the “It’s Time To Talk” event were liberal Democrats, however, and the occasion allowed Barr an opportunity to say hello to a former congressional colleague he calls “a very good friend,” Texas Rep. Ron Paul.
Much of Barr’s hope to make his Libertarian candidacy a serious threat in November depends on his ability to capture the energy — and phenomenal fundraising potential — demonstrated by Paul’s anti-war insurgency in the GOP.
Already, many of the activists who supported Paul in the Republican primaries are working for Barr. Monday, two pro-Paul bloggers sent out an e-mail explaining they were backing Barr because his campaign would “retain the philosophical core of Ron Paul’s message.”
So far, however, Barr has yet to match the online money machine that helped generate more than $30 million for Paul’s primary campaign. As of yesterday, the Barr campaign’s website reported he had raised about $250,000.
The Libertarian’s lag in fund-raising may have to do with how he sells his message. While Barr and Paul share an opposition to the Bush foreign policy, the Capitol Hill event highlighted the different rhetorical styles of the two men.
Paul tends toward dramatic language and apocalyptic warnings. The Bush policy is “immoral, unconstitutional, not legal under international law,” the Texan said yesterday, and prophesied that economic ruin “is going to come down on our heads” as a consequence. “The Soviets collapsed for financial reasons. We will, as well.”
Barr, by contrast, strives for a more common-sense tone, as when calling for a “constructive dialogue” with Iran as an alternative to the Bush administration’s refusal to negotiate with Tehran.
“The prime minister of Iraq is talking with the Iranian leadership, the Israelis are talking with Syria, and the Bush administration won’t talk to anybody.” Barr said in an interview following yesterday’s press conference. “It makes no sense whatsoever.”
BARR SOUGHT TO position himself as a reasonable alternative to Republican Sen. John McCain — whose mocking “bomb Iran” ditty became an instant YouTube classic — and Democratic Sen. Barack Obama, who has said he’d require no preconditions to meet with Iran’s Holocaust-denying President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
“I would differ substantially from both of the other two candidates for president,” Barr said in the post-press conference interview. “Senator McCain apparently thinks it’s a joke when talking about military action against Iran, and Senator Obama has…a dangerously naive notion of dealing with world leaders without any preconditions whatsoever — you just throw open your doors and say, ‘Hey, we’ll talk with anybody anytime anyplace,’ which makes no sense….With Obama, it also seems to be a function of what audience he’s talking to, as to what his position is.”
The Capitol Hill event gave Barr a chance to tout his foreign-policy credentials. His father worked as a civil engineer and his family followed him in a series of assignments in exotic locales — including, to take the P’s, Pakistan, Panama and Peru — before Barr finally graduated from high school, ironically enough, in Tehran.
Both his bachelor’s degree from USC and his master’s degree from George Washington University are in international relations, and for eight years in the 1970s, Barr worked on the staff of the CIA. (That biographical datum led to some paranoid whispering during Barr’s hard-fought fight for the LP nomination in Denver.)
His background allows Barr to sound well informed when responding to a question about the futility of negotiations with the paranoid Iranian president. “Ahmadinejad,” Barr explained, “…is not the person calling the shots over in Iran, anyway.” Rather, “It is the Supreme Leader, [Ali] Khameni, who is the decision-maker and calling the shots over there, and the Assembly that is elected and then appoints him.”
Barr then delivered a brief dissertation on Iran’s geography and economy before departing for his next stop in a two-day round of Washington media appointments.
Just after he left, the Code Pink ladies showed up, too late for a strange-bedfellows photo-op with their newfound friend.