Presidential politics bring Iran to center stage

Iran becomes key talking point as GOP candidates seek to unseat Obama.

Republican presidential debate 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Jason Reed)
Republican presidential debate 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Jason Reed)
Convention seems to indicate that the upcoming Presidential election will be focused on jobs and the economy. If employment is up and the markets are steady, the pundits say US President Barack Obama will be a formidable candidate. If not, he is highly vulnerable. But as the threat of Iranian nuclear belligerence becomes more pronounced, Obama has been forced to expose an even greater vulnerability and address growing international fear over Iran. Republicans would do very well then, to start really pushing the issue to fore.
Unlike economic matters, which are often complex and are reflective of multiple fluctuating components, the subject of Iran is fairly straightforward. While the case for or against various economic initiatives allow much room for dispute and is at times highly subjective, quantifying progress on Iran is fairly elementary on all fronts - both for candidates to explain it and for the public in turn to grasp.
Overall, most people would gladly give up the opportunity to amass more wealth in favor of living safer, longer and without fear. That being the case, and since Obama has nothing substantial to show for himself so far, Republicans should seize the opportunity to bring the issue of Iran to center stage.
In dealing with the Iranian crisis, there are three primary options on the table: sanctions, covert action and military strikes. Yet at least as far as the public is concerned, Obama has addressed all three.
On the first path, sanctions, the President has talked a big game, but bottom line is that implementations have been far weaker than what is necessary. So much so that New Jersey Senator, Robert Menendez, usually a staunch Obama ally, publicly expressed anger and frustration with the administration last month over a crucial bill aimed at sanctioning the Central Bank of Iran. As Foreign Policy reported:
Two senior administration officials testified......that the current bipartisan amendment to impose new sanctions on the CBI (Central Bank of Iran) and any other bank that does business with them is a bad idea that could alienate foreign countries.
On Sunday, Israel's largest daily newspaper, Israel Hayom, reported:
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is not pleased with the way the US administration is managing its sanctions campaign against Iran, according to a senior Israeli diplomat. Netanyahu is said to be urging the US to target Iran's Central Bank and crude oil industry.
With the second path, covert action, the nature of the beast means that it is obviously harder to quantify Obama's position. But various reports and public statements made by the administration about covert operations – especially over the January 11 assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan - are indicative that the President is not in favor of any such actions. The US denied any role in the assassination and Victoria Nuland of the US State Department released the following statement: "We condemn any assassination or attack on an innocent person, and we express our sympathies to the family."
Israel's Channel 2 TV station also quoted a source within "Netanyahu's bureau" that claimed that Obama had asked for an explanation regarding Israel's involvement in the assassination. For his own part, in an interview that aired on Dutch television Thursday night, Netanyahu declined to comment about the assassination, only saying that, “Anytime something happens in Iran, Israel is accused, but that doesn’t make it true.” He continued by saying that Israel doesn’t “respond to these kinds of [accusations of involvement] ever, including many cases in which we are not involved.”
With respect to the third option - actually launching a strike on Iran's nuclear facilities - the Wall Street Journal reported over the weekend:
President Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and other top officials have delivered a string of private messages to Israeli leaders warning about the dire consequences of a strike.
This begs the question, what exactly should Israel's recourse be? Should the Jewish State close its eyes and just continue holding the hand of the US President in absolute faith and trust, while keeping in mind that it is the obliteration of Israel that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has promised to deliver?  Positioned within striking distance of long range Iranian missiles and within touching distance of both of Iran’s proxies, Hamas and Hezbollah, Israel simply cannot afford to take that risk. Considering the overwhelming degree of solidarity that voting Americans feel with their Israeli counterparts, this is a point that candidates would do well to highlight time and again.
Obama defenders point to economic risk over oil prices as a reason to move slowly with Iran, but one thing we can be certain of is that a nuclear Iran will create far greater economic instability. Additionally, forcing Iran into a limited oil market would allow their primary customers, such as China, to offer far less for Iran's oil - possibly even forcing the oil prices down around the world.
Other supporters have expressed the possibility that Israel and the United States are actually working together in dealing with Iran, staging a good cop, bad cop “delay, delay, delay” dynamic. However, the only method that may actually have some impact on Iran right now is a unified bad cop, bad cop message.
Mitt Romney got the tone right in a November debate when he said "If we re-elect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon. And if we elect Mitt Romney, they will not have a nuclear weapon." Since, at least for the time being, the economy is showing signs of improvement, the prescribed course of action for Republicans should be to up the ante on the Iran threat.

The writer is the director of the Algemeiner Journal and the GJCF. He can be contacted at [email protected]