Much is being made of Romney's assertion last night that Syria represented Iran's "Route to the Sea." The responses range from puzzlement to outright ridicule given the fact that Iran has over a thousand miles of coastline. But in the context of what Iran represents to the neoconservatives who inform Romney's foreign policy as well as the religious makeup of the GOP base, I believe another explanation is possible, and to reach that conclusion one need only examine exactly who such a statement would resonate with the most.
It's no secret that Romney, a Mormon, is experiencing something of an Evangelical problem, to the point where Billy Graham felt compelled to assert that Romney represented "Biblical," as opposed to "Christian" values. In fact Romney can't come out with a full-throated paean to "Christian" values the way George W. Bush could, given his Mormonism. This is a real problem in motivating the religious GOP base, which must essentially overlook the teachings of their own ministers, many of whom have contended in the past that Mormonism is heresy.
My feeling is that Romney, certainly on the advice of his neoconservative advisors, deliberately injected the "route to the sea" reference because it conjures up the spectacle of an invading army. Once that army passes through Syria, the "path to the sea" (for the Iranian hordes) goes directly through Israel. Romney's allusion can be seen as a confirmation of what many evangelicals fervently believe, that the end of the world will occur in a climactic battle as nation-states surround Israel. This is the great battle of Armageddon, in which the forces of good and evil--Gog, Magog, and all the rest, meet in the valley of Megiddo, precipitating Christ's return in glory and the salvation of the state of Israel.
This battle and the events surrounding it form a key tenet of apocalyptic, evangelical thought:
. [T]he Messiah will return to earth and defeat the Antichrist (the "beast") and Satan the Devil in the Battle of Armageddon. Then Satan will be put into the "bottomless pit" or abyss for 1,000 years, known as the Millennial Age. After being released from the abyss, Satan will gather Gog and Magog (peoples of two specific nations) from the four corners of the earth. They will encamp surrounding the "holy ones" and the "beloved city" (this refers to Jerusalem). Fire will come down from God, out of heaven and devour Gog and Magog after the Millennium. The Devil, death, hell, and those not found written in the Book of Life are then thrown into Gehenna (the Lake of Fire burning with brimstone).Evangelical teaching regards this epic battle as a matter pre-ordained in Revelation and several other chapters of the Bible. But for it to occur, obviously the characters must be cast in context of the modern map. The demonizaton of Iran by the neoconservatives has its roots not only in the fierce defense of Israel itself as a Jewish homeland, but more fundamentally--at least among Evangelical Christians who make up the GOP base--it dovetails with the Biblical prophecy of an inevitable global conflagration whose focal point is Israel. Ultimately Israel is depicted not only as a home for the Jews, but in the minds of Evangelicals, the place where they and the world will ultimately be converted to Christianity.
The first part is that, according to Evangelical prophecy, all the Jews are either forcibly converted or killed in the last reel. The second part is that Evangelicals are trying to bring on Armageddon as a necessary condition for the Second Coming of Christ.The fundamental tension between Evangelicals regard for Jews and the fact that apocalyptic evangelical teaching presupposes their destruction/conversion is the subject of another Diary, as is the neoconservative's cynical exploitation of Evangelical beliefs as a means to satisfy their Zionist impulses. But ultimately that's where all this fixation on Israel from the GOP comes from. In the past Russia and China had fulfilled this role in the minds of Christian evangelicals, but the end of the Cold War has brought renewed focus on the actions of the demon du jour, Iran.
So by saying Iran's "route to the sea" lay through Syria, it is possible that Romney was channeling the same prophecies and worldview that sustain the GOP evangelical base. In that interpretation, the Mediterranean becomes the only "sea" that matters.
Israel lies directly to the West of Iran, and the straightest path leads through Syria. Syria becomes the last bulwark against the tide of the invader, and must therefore be defended at all costs. Romney views Syria as a client-state of Iran. By arming the Syrian rebels against the Devil he is reassuring his evangelical base that he represents their interests.
Of course, all this is speculation, and Romney's statement does oddly echo the Cold War shibboleth that the Soviet Union's ultimate goal was the securing of a warm water port. It could have been a simple gaffe. But it's hard to imagine Dan Senor and John Bolton, who prepared Romney for this debate and have fixated on the geopolitical map of the Middle East for the better part of their lives, were simply unaware that Iran already had access "to the sea."