The convergence of heightened tensions with Iran and the official start to the 2012 presidential primary season could be good or bad timing, depending on how the players handle this delicate period. Either way, all parties should remember that much is at stake. Politics must not get in the way of legitimate policy discussions as the threat of a nuclear Iran creeps ever closer. The International Atomic Energy Agency this week confirmed that the country has begun enriching uranium closer to weapons-level capability at an underground site near the holy city of Qom. The news of yet another uranium-enriching installation moving ahead full-steam comes as Iran's back is against the wall, with the coordinated effort at global economic sanctions finally showing signs of impact on the rogue state. The new U.S. sanctions targeting Iran's Central Bank and the European Union's agreement on an oil embargo together seek to strike at the core of Iran's oil wealth. The big unknown is whether the hit on its economy will persuade Tehran to give up its nuclear program, which it farcically continues to insist is for non-military purposes. Without a guarantee, the military option must continue to be on the table.
It is against this backdrop that both the Obama administration and the Republican candidates must carefully measure their words and actions.ppppppp In an interview with Bloomberg News this week, Dennis Ross, the president's former special assistant on Iran, said that President Barack Obama has "made it very clear" that he would be willing to use force if necessary to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.
The administration considers the risks of permitting a nuclear-armed Iran to be greater than the risks of military action, said Ross, whose comments came as Obama administration officials were making clear that developing a nuclear weapon would cross a "red line." "They need to know that if they take that step, they're going to get stopped," Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on CBS News' "Face the Nation" over the weekend.
Many of the Republican candidates are also taking pains to outline their zero-tolerance for a nuclear Iran. But it would be irresponsible to advocate an immediate strike on Iran because it makes a good sound bite.
Israeli and American officials appear to agree that now is the time to see if these latest sanctions persuade Iran to change course. A strike against Iran may be necessary down the line but it will not be easy or without grave repercussions.
There are no easy answers here. A little saber-rattling could prove productive at times, but suggesting an immediate strike on Iran could prove counterproductive and dangerous.
There are plenty of issues to play politics with as the election season heats up. When it comes to Iran, let's lose the rhetoric and stay focused on the danger rather than what might win votes.