American elections are coming, and that means that it’s silly season.
Partisans on both sides are seeing things that are not there and sometimes saying things that they don’t mean. None of this is new or surprising, but it could make us lose sight of reality altogether—and that can be dangerous.
Let us take the example of Governor Romney’s position on a nuclear Iran.
I am delighted that the Governor has visited Israel and expressed strong support for the Jewish state. I am very pleased that he seems to understand the dangers of an Iran with nuclear weapons.
But let’s take a careful look at what he did and did not say, as well as what he hinted at and implied.
He never said or implied that the United States would lead an attack against Iran if it acquires or is about to acquire nuclear weapons—and this, of course, is what Israel really wants and needs.
He did say that while tough sanctions should be applied, “nothing should be taken off the table” – a position that is welcome but not overly encouraging, and no different from current American policy.
He said that he accepts and respects the right of Israel to take actions that are necessary for her own defense. That’s fine, as far as it goes. But he did not say what could be expected from the United States if Israel were to act on her own against Iran. Would the Americans join in, offer support, provide backup? We don’t know.
In short, despite efforts by Romney backers to present his views as more muscular and aggressive than those of the President, the Romney policy is not different in any respect from the Obama policy.
And that is not a criticism of Romney or an endorsement of Obama. It is simply recognition that there are not different Republican and Democratic policies on Iran. There is an American policy that calls for tough sanctions, leaving open, amidst much tough talk, what will happen if those sanctions don’t work.
And, by the way, there is a case to be made—made most recently by Jeffrey Goldberg in his Bloomberg column on July 26, and by other commentators as well—that President Obama is more likely than President Romney to strike Iran early next year because a President Romney will be totally consumed with issues of the domestic economy. I do not necessarily endorse this view, but it is a reasonable argument.
Without question, a nuclear-armed Iran threatens Israel’s well-being and very existence. But this is not a time for self-delusion.
I suggest, as I have suggested previously, that Israel’s government will not attack Iran on her own. Her military capacity is limited, and the dangers of failure are simply too great. Furthermore, it would be an act of great daring, and this is not a daring government. (It was unwilling to risk the wrath of the haredim over the issue of army enlistment; surely, it will not risk the wrath of the general electorate over a failed military operation in Iran.)
Furthermore, while there are many differences between President Obama and Governor Romney, Iran policy is not one of them. Don’t let the advocates on either side convince you otherwise.