WORLD NEWS TOMORROW: The leaders of Israel may very well decide to launch a preventive strike against Iran’s nuclear program before the U.S. election on Nov. 6. Sanctions are failing to persuade the Iranian regime to stop enriching uranium, and negotiations with members of the United Nations Security Council are bearing no fruit. Still, there’s a good chance they will postpone action until after the U.S. election.
Benjamin Netanyahu would never say this publicly, but as a longtime watcher of the Israeli prime minister, I can say with reasonable surety that if Netanyahu were a more religiously observant Jew, he would be stuffing notes into the Western Wall right now, asking God to help Mitt Romney in Florida and Ohio. For Netanyahu, who is dispositionally and ideologically aligned with the U.S. Republican Party, only a muscular conservative can be trusted against Iran.
On Iran, however, Netanyahu would be wrong to root for Romney. Barack Obama is the one who’s more likely to confront Iran militarily. He has committed himself to stopping Iran by any means necessary, and he has a three-year record as president to back his rhetoric. Romney has only rhetoric.
Romney, who is visiting Netanyahu in Jerusalem this weekend, isn’t soft on the matter. He told a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention this week that “there must be a full suspension of any enrichment, period.” He went on: “I will use every means necessary to protect ourselves and the region, and to prevent the worst from happening while there is still time.”
But Romney would face critical challenges in conflict with Iran that Obama would not:
Romney would be a new president in 2013, plausibly the year for a preventive attack. He will be inexperienced. The learning curve on Iran is steep, and the Iranian regime knows it. The Obama team is deeply knowledgeable, appropriately cynical about Iranian intentions, and has had the time to make course corrections.
Romney, by all accounts, is uninterested in inheriting the mantle of President George W. Bush, who invaded two Muslim countries and lost popularity as a result. Romney, despite his rhetoric, is more of a pragmatist than Bush, and far more cautious.
The unilateral use of force in the Middle East for a liberal Democrat like Obama is a credential; for a conservative Republican like Romney, it could be an albatross. I argued in a previous column that Romney is more likely than Obama to oversee a revitalized Middle East peace process. That’s because conservatives are better positioned to make peace. Meanwhile, we know that U.S. voters and world leaders allow Obama extraordinary leeway when it comes to deadly drone strikes, precisely because of his politics, character and background. (We are talking about a man who won the Nobel Peace Prize while ordering the automated killing of suspected Muslim terrorists around the world.) Romney will get no comparative slack.
Obama has done a superior job of building an international sanctions coalition against Iran. He has even received some cooperation from China and Russia. Before identifying Iran as the United States’ main adversary in the world, Romney named Russia. There’s no evidence to suggest Romney will do a better job than Obama in negotiating with the Russians; no evidence to suggest he will do a better job creating international support for stringent sanctions, and certainly no evidence he would do better in convincing allies that a strike against Iran is a necessity.