Casual Talk of War

President Barack Obama sharply rebuked his Republican opponents for having "a lot of bluster" and "beating the drums of war" with Iran. The president's comments, which came in response to question at a White House news conference Tuesday, were clearly directed at Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, all of whom have been highly critical of President Obama's Iran policy.

"Now, what is said on the campaign trail, you know, those folks don't have a lot of responsibilities. They are not commander-in-chief," The president said. "And when I see the casualness with which some of these folks talk about war, I'm reminded of the costs involved in war." He then said,

"This is not a game, and there is nothing casual about it. And, you know, when I see some of these folks who have a lot of bluster and a lot of big talk, but when you actually ask them specifically what they would do, it turns out they repeat the things that we've been doing over the last three years. It indicates to me that that is more about politics than actually trying to solve a difficult problem."

The president then challenged his opponents to make their case for war, "If some of these folks think that it's time to launch a war they should say so, and they should explain to the American people exactly why they would do that and what the consequences would be."

At one point in his news conference the president suggested that now, "We have a window of opportunity" to resolve the nuclear issue with Iran diplomatically. He then said, "It is deeply in everybody's interest -- the U.S., Israel and the world -- to see if can be resolved in a peaceful fashion." He began his news conference by listing the steps he had taken to tighten sanctions on Iran and unify the world around the issue. And he repeated his support for Israel.

Romney, Santorum and Gingrich have all been outspoken on Iran during their campaigns. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, speaking to the Israeli lobbying group AIPAC, said, "Hope is not a foreign policy...The only thing respected by thugs and tyrants is our resolve." Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum also spoke to the group about the president, "He says he has Israel's back... From everything I've seen, he has turned his back on the people of Israel." And Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich spoke to the group about what he would do as president, "We would not keep talking while the Iranians keep building." Gingrich continued, "The red line is now... It is an unacceptable risk."

The Republican candidates were clearly pandering to the pro-Israeli lobby, as well as to neo-conservatives. Romney has gone as far as to say that if the president is reelected Iran will get a nuclear weapon. In fact, Romney has called President Obama, "The most feckless president since President Carter." When asked Tuesday to respond to Romney's quote, the president said, "Good luck tonight." The President was referring to the Super Tuesday primaries and caucuses.

Republican candidates have lost ground to the president in the "national security" perception battle. President Obama has many successes in this area, including the killing of Osama bin Laden. Yet Republican candidates see Iran as an issue that can be exploited, especially among their conservative base. But recent polls show a majority of Americans are not interested in another war.

President Obama was very tough on his opponents Tuesday. But he also exuded confidence, competence, thoughtfulness and resolve. He displayed, in a word, leadership. The kind of leadership that can easily quell senseless bluster.