"If we elect Barack Obama, Iran will have nuclear weapons. If you elect Mitt Romney, if you elect me, they will not," said Mr. Romney during Saturday night's Republican primary foreign policy debate in South Carolina. A simple enough statement, and yet it is the first concrete guarantee from a high profile American politician that whatever it takes, Iran will not be allowed to develop a nuclear arsenal.
President Obama responded to critique on his handling of Iran by Republican candidates by patting himself on the back, saying that "the (existing) sanctions have enormous bite and enormous scope."
The president referenced his discussions with China and Russia reporting that "All three of us entirely agree on the objective, which is making sure that Iran does not weaponize nuclear power and we do not trigger a nuclear arms race in the region, that's in the interest of all of us. We will be consulting with them carefully over the next several weeks to look at what other options we have available to us."
If Obama is aligning his objectives on Iran with Russia, which has been supplying nuclear expertise and equipment to Iran, and China who has fought against further sanctions and isolation of Iran, we might as well begin digging nuclear bunkers in our back yards. What exactly does Russia stand to lose in allowing Iran to go nuclear? What does China stand to lose? A weakened United States is an objective of both, and they can be sure that Iranian nuclear belligerence will not be directed against them.
As we enter election season the American people and America's allies have a right to know where exactly Obama stands, without doubt. Will he, or will he not allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons? Of course that is his objective, but can we rest assured that when push comes to shove, when all else fails whatever the methods or options, this is guaranteed?
The recent release of the IAEA report on Iranian nuclear activity was damning, and has moved the issue of Iran to the front and center of political foreign policy debate. Mitt Romney and other candidates have recognized that the American people want this simple question answered, and he will continue to relentlessly hammer this message as his single greatest departure from the policies of the Obama administration. Obama can dangle his Libya 'success' or the killing of Osama bin Laden as achievements, but let's face it, those were easy choices, they came with little risk and minimal cost. With Iran, there is much at stake, and Republicans can capitalize on the general lack of trust in the President to make tough choices on issues of national security.
Concern has reached a point that even conservative critics of the Iraq war often tie their critique to Iran, saying, that the failure of Iraq was in the misdirection of resources that should have been used to stop Iran.
In his recent Daily Beast column on the foreign policy debate, columnist Peter Beinart -- who incidentally is writing a book entitled The Crisis of Zionism -- routinely lumps together all key foreign policy topics that were discussed as if they are remotely on par with one another. Afghanistan, Pakistan, waterboarding and even Israel are policy issues. Iran is the issue of the day, in a class of its own.
Beinart is correct that America is by no means in gung ho mode, economic uncertainty has even led conservatives to want to hunker down, lie low and ride it out. Spend little, save, build and work to re-establish America's economic stability, the bedrock of its strength.
In the past, this may have been the way to go, but presented with the unique threat of Iran, the onset of this collective mindset may be the most calamitous outcome of the recession. A bad economy is always reversible; it results in hardship but rarely wholesale death and destruction. The threat of Iran however, is real, irreversible and of a magnitude that far surpasses any that we have seen in our lifetime.
The threat of Iran is by no means diminishing, as the mullahs are emboldened. Advanced weaponry testing will continue to make Western headlines, as well as tales of Iranian meddling in Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Libya and on Israel's borders. When it comes to foreign policy, Iran is increasingly becoming a silver bullet for Republicans.
Obama's likely presidential challenger Mitt Romney has understood the centrality of the issue and has made his position clear. On the Iranian nuclear issue, Obama must now simply answer, yes, or no?