From The New York Times:
Iran Face-Off Testing Obama the Candidate
By Mark Landler, Published: January 16, 2012
WASHINGTON — The escalating American confrontation with Iran poses a major new political threat to President Obama as he heads into his campaign for re-election, presenting him with choices that could harm either the economic recovery or his image as a firm leader.
Well, no worries there: the President doesn't have an “image as a firm leader” to protect.
Sanctions against Iran’s oil exports that the president signed into law on New Year’s Eve started a fateful clock ticking. In late June, when the campaign is in full swing, Mr. Obama will have to decide whether to take action against countries, including some staunch allies, if they continue to buy Iranian oil through its central bank.
The legislation contains some “escape hatches” the President could use to avoid imposing the sanctions called for in the law, exemptions for which the Administration lobbied, but if he uses them, the Republican presidential nominee will hammer him hard on being soft on Iran. Given that the most likely Republican nominee, former Governor Mitt Romney (R-MA), has said, specifically, that if President Obama is re-elected, Iran will gain nuclear weapons, and that if Mr Romney is elected, Iran will not get them, and that he was willing to use military force if other options failed, such would present a very stark contrast between the candidates. Given the existential threat a nuclear-armed Iran would pose to Israel, and President Obama's already shaky status among American Jews,1 Jewish voters might desert the President in droves.
Few inside the administration see a surefire way of preventing Iran from crossing the nuclear weapons threshold, though none are ready to discuss moving to a focus on containing a nuclear Iran.
The administration is deeply reluctant to us
e military action, and the United States strenuously denied involvement in the recent killing of an Iranian nuclear scientist. Instead, it has focused mainly on using economic pressure to make Iran pay a high price for expanding its nuclear efforts despite international sanctions.
That is correct: if the military option is taken off the table, then there is no “surefire way of preventing Iran from crossing the nuclear weapons threshold.”2 It is no surprise that no one in the Administration is willing to discuss containing a nuclear-armed Iran; that would be seen as a political sign that the President is willing to accept such a thing. However, if the Administration is willing to send signals that a Times reporter can describe as “deeply reluctant to use military action,” then Iran almost certainly perceives that the military option already has been taken off the table.
Add to this the Iranian threats to close the Strait of Hormuz, through which about a sixth of world crude oil shipments pass. That threat alone, not yet actually carried out, has caused crude oil prices to jump, and the Administration's response to a threatened attack on the entire Western world's economy has been only to say that the United States Navy could destroy Iran's capability to maintain such a closure; not a single word has escaped anyone's lips that such a closure would justify a response which destroyed the Iranian government. Whether a different message has been communicated to the Ayatollah Ali Khameini or President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is unknown.
Iran has already cost one Democratic American President his job, and the Iranians didn't see anything particularly worse happening to them by replacing the milquetoast President Carter with the tougher-talking President Reagan; there is no particular reason to believe that the Iranians would prefer to not help defeat President Obama just to keep one of his Republican opponents out of the White House.
- Jewish voters are traditionally the Democratic Party's second most loyal voting demographic. ↩
- National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon has already admitted that sanctions have had little effect, and that “the Iranian regime has not fundamentally altered its behavior.” ↩