Obama vs Romney: On Iran, Both Candidates Must Better Explain Their Positions

The United States is at a very crucial point in defining its future foreign policy. Despite leaving Iraq, soldiers are still in Afghanistan, predator drone strikes are being challenged in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen, Syria is still suppressing its opposition, J. Christopher Stevens, US ambassador to Syria, was murdered amid protests erupting across the Middle East one year after the promising Arab Spring, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel is demanding a red line be drawn for Iran, and the two presidential candidates have not given concrete answers regarding their foreign policy visions. Looking at the issue of Iran, there are a number of avenues both candidates can take and likewise there are wider implications for U.S. foreign policy over the next four yours.

President Obama has given the American people a primer. By nature of being Commander in Chief for the last four years, the Obama Doctrine has symbolized negotiation, caution and cooperation as opposed to the unilateralism and preemptive action that defined the Bush years. Nonetheless, the administration’s stance regarding Iran’s nuclear program remains unclear moving forward. Despite promising diplomatic engagement with Iran during the 2008 campaign trail, the Obama administration has issued the toughest sanctions in history on Iran and has covertly collaborated with Israeli intelligence and provided them military support. The track record exists, however Americans need a clearer answer about what the next four years of the Obama Administration could look like, not just a statement against Iran having a nuclear weapon.

Mitt Romney is vague about his policy regarding Iran as well. He stated to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that he has drawn the same red line as President Obama in regards to not allowing Iran obtain a nuclear weapon. He was ambiguous when speaking of Iran’s “capacity to terrorize the world” by not saying anything about Iran’s capability to develop a nuclear weapon. Romney’s surrogates seem to have a clearer vision regarding foreign policy with Dan Senor explaining “It is not enough just to stop Iran from developing a nuclear program. The capability, even if that capability is short of weaponization, is a pathway to weaponization, and the capability gives Iran the power it needs to wreak havoc in the region and around the world.” These are two very different foreign policy prescriptions, having a nuclear weapon against having nuclear capability, with separate implications. Accordingly, it is imperative for Romney to be explicit concerning his Iran policy.

Charles Krauthammer and Fareed Zakaria have two distinct visions for the United States on Iran, and are engaging in a very productive discussion across their newspaper columns and television appearances. Krauthammer wrote extensively about the ‘deterrence works fantasy,’ saying that the Iran situation is not analogous to the Cold War Era nuclear standoff with the Soviet Union. He believes that it is imperative for the United States to clearly draw a red line with Iran and failing to do so isolates Israel. Conversely, Zakaria denounces this mentality as the ‘red line folly’ by stating that it almost certainly commits the United States to military engagement in the Middle East. He points out that Israel has not specified a nuclear enrichment level that is casus belli, and likewise the United States should not be obligated to do the same. In Zakaria’s view, attacks on Iranian nuclear facilitates may do more to delay nuclear weapon development than stop it.

Irrespective of which view you support, or if you think both of them are wrong and favor different policy objectives, these are two divergent views that have their own implications. This discussion must leave the political columns and become a part of a greater dialogue on the campaign trail. Obama and Romney need to address these issues directly and not wait until the October 22 debate to be forced to talk about the U.S. in relation to the rest of world.

The economy may be issue number one, but that is no reason for the candidates to push foreign policy aside during this critical juncture in American history.