Convention says that the upcoming Presidential election is all about jobs and the economy. If employment is up and the markets are steady, the pundits say President Obama will be a formidable candidate. If not, he is highly vulnerable. But as the threat of Iranian nuclear belligerence becomes more pronounced, President Obama has been forced to address growing international fear over Iran, exposing perhaps his even greater vulnerability. Republicans would do very well to push the issue.
For one, the subject of Iran is simple and fairly straightforward, as opposed to economic matters which are often complex and are reflective of multiple fluctuating components. The case for or against various economic initiatives allow much room for dispute and is at times highly subjective. Quantifying progress on Iran however, is fairly elementary. It is uncomplicated for candidates to explain and easier for the public to grasp.
Iran is also among the broadest issues, as it affects everyone. Of course, so does the economy, but in truth most people would gladly give up the opportunity to amass more wealth in favor of living safer, longer and without fear.
Republicans should move to consistently bring the issue of Iran to center stage, as President Obama has absolutely nothing substantial to show for himself. In fact there is a case to be made that he has effectively served -- to the extent that he was practically able -- as Iran's blocking back in its mad dash toward nuclear armament. Most Republicans have already come out forcefully on the issue.
In dealing with the Iranian crisis, there are three primary options on the table, and as far as the public is concerned President Obama has fought against all three.
On the first path, sanctions, he has talked a big game, but bottom line implementations have been weaker than necessary and significantly protracted. So much so that usual staunch Obama ally New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez 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 Benjamin Netanyahu is not pleased with the way the U.S. administration is managing its sanctions campaign against Iran, according to a senior Israeli diplomat. Netanyahu is said to be urging the U.S. to target Iran's Central Bank and crude oil industry.
With the second path, covert action, it is harder to quantify Obama's position as it is of course covert. (BUT) from reports and public statements made by the administration over the recent assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist, it is apparent that the President has been far from supportive. "We condemn any assassination or attack on an innocent person, and we express our sympathies to the family," said Victoria Nuland of the U.S. State Department. Israel's Channel 2 TV station quoted a source within "Netanyahu's bureau," claiming that Obama asked for an explanation regarding Israel's involvement.
With regard 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.
So one is compelled to wonder, what exactly is Israel's recourse here? Should the country close its eyes and hold on to the hand of the American President in absolute faith and trust? It is the obliteration of Israel that Ahmedinejad has promised to deliver. Positioned within striking distance of Iranian long range missiles and within touching distance of Iranian proxies Hamas and Hezbollah, Israel can by no means 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 'hold me back' dynamic. It is clear however that 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 where 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." As the economy for now has shown signs (even if temporary) of improvement, for Republicans, continuing to push the Iran issue to the center stage may just be their safest bet.