Politics Straight, No Chaser
War or Diplomacy? Obama and Romney on Iran
Published: Monday, October 22, 2012
Updated: Monday, April 22, 2013 19:04
President Barack Obama and Republican Presidential Nominee Mitt Romney faced off against each other in the third and final presidential debate last night in Boca Raton, Fla. The topic was on foreign policy, which has proved several times to be a hot-point issue in this election. According to Gallup, a clear majority of Americans, 72 percent, are most concerned about economic problems, but foreign issues are still important and relevant. This is because foreign affairs can directly affect our economy as well as our national security. Along these lines, Obama and Romney have confronted each other on the issue of Iran and its nuclear program, especially in regard to its impact on the security of Israel.
Iran has steadily accumulated the technology, expertise and fissile material necessary to build nuclear weapons. Although leaders in the Iranian government claim that their nuclear program is strictly for peaceful purposes, members of the international community fear that this is not the case. Obama and Romney both view the prospect of a nuclear Iran as “unacceptable,” but disagree on how to approach the issue. Before examining approaches and strategies, however, a background of Iran’s nuclear program will provide a crucial context to a more comprehensive understanding of the issue at hand.
Iran’s first interest in nuclear technology began in the 1950s and was actually supported by the United States under former President Dwight D. Eisenhower. The Iranian Revolution of 1979 that ousted the U.S.-supported Shah and the subsequent Iraq-Iran War, however, halted the program for some time. In the 1990s, a new nuclear effort began, raising concern and suspicion in Washington, D.C. Iranian leadership assured the international community that they were abiding by their obligations as stated in the Non-Proliferation Treaty but in 2002, however, documents were discovered that revealed a clandestine nuclear program involving the enrichment of uranium.
Conditions worsened in 2005 when Iran’s relatively moderate president Mohammad Khatami, who halted the program, was succeeded by hard-line conservative and current Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who announced uranium enrichment would commence once again. The United States and other Western partners agree that it is acceptable for Iran to produce nuclear energy for peaceful purposes such as powering nuclear reactors and making medical isotopes, but Iran’s focus toward enrichment and weaponization has led to multiple U.S. and United Nations sanctions against the country. Iran feels that uranium enrichment is an “undeniable right” that will provide international security and respect but others clearly disagree. Recently, Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, emphasized this point at a U.N. General Assembly meeting, where he literally drew a “red line” on a visual graphic of a bomb, implying that if Iran surpasses a 90 percent completion level on their nuclear program, Israel will take assertive action.
In light of these concerns, Romney has accused Obama of being too soft on Iran and uncooperative with Israel. The Republican nominee says that he will impose “crippling” sanctions against Iran in order to halt the progression of its nuclear program. Obama argues that such sanctions are already in place as he, along with the U.N., has imposed some of the most severe economic sanctions ever leveled against a country. Arab news source, Al Jazeera, provides evidence for this claim, noting that largely as a result of sanctions, Iran’s oil exports have dropped by about one million barrels per day for the past year—a 60 percent drop in revenue. As a result, Iran’s currency, the rial, has been lost 40 percent of its value compared to the U.S. dollar in recent weeks.
While Romney is more hawkish on the issue and openly expresses his intention to promote and assist in regime change and support an Israeli preemptive strike against Iran, Obama has focused on reassuring Israelis and Americans that there is still time to see if sanctions and diplomacy can work before military action is necessary. Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, substantiates this timetable noting it would take several years for Iran to enrich uranium from its present level of around 20 percent to the 90 percent level that a nuclear weapon requires. In addition, producing warheads and delivery systems while under the pervasive watch of the international community and nuclear weapon watchdogs would be especially arduous and time-consuming, if even possible.
Obama has routinely stated that despite his diplomatic focus, “all options are on the table,” including military force. This willingness is illustrated by certain covert operations that have occurred in Iran under his administration, presumably in cooperation with Israel, although the extent of U.S. involvement is unclear. The current primary emphasis on sanctions and diplomacy, however, is the route that we must maintain. A new war in the midst of a fragile, recovering economy is the last thing our nation needs. As troops have finally left Iraq and will soon exit Afghanistan, it is imperative that we remember the ghastly and enduring consequences of too easily submitting to the sounds of a beating war drum.