On Iran: Imagine Romney in the White House

He publicly declared seven years ago that Iran must and can be stopped, that sanctions should be toughened, and that Iran should be isolated.

Mitt Romney lookin all sad 370 (R) (photo credit: Mike Segar / Reuters)
Mitt Romney lookin all sad 370 (R)
(photo credit: Mike Segar / Reuters)
When it comes to dealing with the new political leadership in Tehran, does it matter that Barack Obama, rather than Mitt Romney, occupies the White House? The question is hypothetical, and requires us to assume that Romney’s actions as president would have followed the statements he made during two unsuccessful presidential campaigns.
An examination of these statements shows that Romney’s position was not so different from Obama’s, but suggests that the president should take a cue from his former opponent and insert some much-needed toughness into negotiations with Iran.
Romney developed his views on the Iranian file over several years. He publicly declared seven years ago that Iran must and can be stopped, that sanctions should be toughened, and that Iran should be isolated.
American diplomacy, he said, should be backed with a real and credible military option, including an increased US naval presence.
In October 2012, during the televised foreign policy presidential debate, he said he would tighten economic sanctions, increase the diplomatic isolation of Iran, and indict then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He accused the Obama administration of signaling weakness to the Iranian regime.
Following the debate, he was approached by Jeffrey Goldberg, writing for Bloomberg, who expressed the concern of major Romney supporters and donors that their candidate had gone soft on Iran, sounding more like Obama.
They were especially bothered by his statement that the mission “...is to dissuade Iran from having a nuclear weapon through peaceful and diplomatic means.”
Romney replied to Goldberg by e-mail that he would not rule out the diplomatic option so long as the US was not rewarding bad behavior. He explained that crippling the Iranian economy is insufficient as the Iranian leadership was still racing toward a bomb, and denied that he would accept any less than a complete halt to Iran’s nuclear effort.
“To be clear, the objective of any strategy will be to get Iran to stop spinning centrifuges, stop enriching uranium, shut down its facilities. Full stop.
Existing fissile material will have to be shipped out of the country.”
Romney also criticized statements by various generals and defense officials regarding the risks involved in a military action, which reduced US credibility among Iranians regarding the military option.
Would President Hassan Rohani have expressed a wish to negotiate with the P5+1 and conduct a direct dialogue with the US under president Romney? There is no reason to doubt Romney’s intentions to tighten sanctions against Iran, so we can assume that the US sanctions regime in place in June 2013, when Rohani was elected, would have been the same or tougher. Therefore, if sanctions truly played a major role in producing a more moderate Iranian president and a willingness to negotiate, then the Iranian leadership would also have been willing to engage with Romney as president.
Romney, as president, would have given the Iranians a chance, but he would not have sent his secretary of state to Congress in order to try and stop new sanctions from being adopted. He might, with the Congress’s understanding and approval, have delayed the bill from being sent to the floor, voted on, or signed into law, but the sword of tougher sanctions would have remained hanging.
It is also fair to say that Romney’s secretary of state would have been more courteous to the Israeli prime minister while briefing US senators, not only because of decorum, but because it was the current Secretary of Defense who admitted that Netanyahu’s threats serve to strengthen the US hand in negotiations.
President Romney might have given the green light for an “unbelievably small” operation in Syria, probably with no good results in Syria itself, but adding credibility to the statement concerning Iran’s nuclear effort that all options are on the table. He might also have convinced some Republican senators and congressmen to suspend their efforts to cut aid to Egypt, giving time for Cairo to improve its plans toward democratization, and preventing Egypt (as well as Turkey in the past two years) from teasing the US by approaching Russia and China.
Although Romney was not elected president, it is not too late for Washington to integrate some of Romney’s ideas.
It is not too late for the incumbent, Obama, to review his policies, especially on Iran, to produce a result that will not be ridiculed, torn to pieces, and cause serious problems between the US and its allies in the Middle East.
Neither President Obama nor candidate Romney showed any desire to use force to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. President Obama should ask himself whether his former political adversary had some ideas that could ensure that a future agreement with Iran serves as a real guarantee that use of force will be averted.
Oded Eran was Israel’s ambassador to Jordan and the European Union. Yoel Guzansky worked on Israel’s National Security Council. Both are senior researchers at the Institute for National Security Studies, Tel Aviv.