In an October ’08 political gaffe, Vice Presidential nominee Joe Biden declared, “Mark my words, it will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy. The world is looking. We’re about to elect a brilliant 47-year-old senator president of the United States of America.” The most incorrect aspect of Biden’s prediction was the six-month timeline.
President Obama has entered the fray of what might be the most challenging national security and foreign policy crisis of his administration: the Iranian threat. There is little doubt – far less than there was when the U.S. (arguably prematurely) invaded Iraq in 2003 – that Iran is on a rapid path to nuclear weaponry. Nuclear experts, foreign policy strategists, think tanks, and politicians have all made clear that Iran is working to build nuclear weapons. A nuclear Iran poses an existential threat to American allies and a grave threat to the peaceful democratic world. These sentiments are echoed from the Security Council to the White House, and from Tel Aviv to Riyadh to the EU and Canada.
Over recent weeks there has been increased speculation that Israel will seek a preemptive and/or tactical strike on Iranian nuclear facilities in the near future. Some suggest this may occur as early as April, and it is the Israeli military’s fashion to surprise its enemies. The conservative Netanyahu Administration might believe that if an attack is imminent, it should occur before the U.S. presidential elections for a few reasons. First, the American people will hold more political clout than after the elections, and the public likely would support the mission. Second, as a second-term president, President Obama might reject an Israeli request for American support in a strike. Third, if the Israeli government is denied American support for a strike prior to the election, political repercussions could favor Governor Romney, who could be more willing to support the Israelis.
President Obama’s Iran strategy seemingly has been among his administration’s greatest shortcomings. His commitment to presidential level negotiations with the Iranian government without preconditions was naïve and consequential. The Iranian government rejected the president’s extended hand due to its upcoming presidential elections, seeking to have the new Iranian presidential administration begin any potential negotiations. The election, which gave rise to the Green Revolution, was an opportunity squandered for Obama, who was too silent as Iranians fought for and failed to achieve democracy. Now President Obama must realize that although supporting military action against Iran must be a last resort, he needs to support a Western democratic attack against Iran if it occurs. Not supporting such an attack – regardless of the specific means of support, and assuming the mission is reasonable, worthwhile, winnable, and well calculated – would be another crucial opportunity wasted.
President Obama must find a way for his administration to support a military response to dangerous Iranian aggression, in line with its foreign policy strategy, should a need for that response arise in the short or long term future.
An Iranian nuclear weapon is a danger the world cannot afford, and President Obama might be the last line of defense against such an outcome.