Last week's disjointed Republican presidential debate in South Carolina was a dispiriting signal that these candidates are either not sophisticated or they do not much care about foreign policy. To those of us who do care deeply about U.S. foreign policy and America's role as a world leader, this was both a disappointing and dangerous sign.
Disappointing because we expect every president, and every presidential candidate, to understand the nuances of America as a world power, capable of global leadership as other countries struggle to find their balance economically, morally and militarily. And dangerous because to underestimate the perils of despots and dictators is to undermine the safety and security of our world.
Iran is a major case in point. Last week, the International Atomic Energy Agency released another alarming report on that country's progress in developing technologies needed to acquire nuclear weapons. This is no idle threat.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has repeatedly called for the destruction of the United States in the same breath that he pledges to annihilate Israel. It is simply unthinkable and unacceptable for Iran to possess a nuclear weapon. President Barack Obama has taken the lead in mobilizing the international community to isolate Iran and apply pressure, both in the form of diplomacy and stringent economic sanctions, on Iran's regime.
It is President Obama's moral suasion and high standing in the world that have resulted in a broad and strong coalition of allies determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. And he has consistently stated that "no options are off the table" should diplomatic efforts fail.
Of the Republican contenders, some are proposing ideas already surpassed by President Obama's actions, including promises to rally the international community to isolate Iran. Former Gov. Mitt Romney has suggested "consulting the lawyers" when asked about using military force against Iran's nuclear facilities; even the voices of the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal could be heard groaning in dismay at this proposal by a potential commander in chief.
Romney's promise of tough sanctions against Iran rings hollow in light of the fact that his own charitable foundation has financial interests in companies that do business with Iran, including a Brazilian energy firm that purportedly invested over $100 billion to develop Iranian oil and natural gas in the Caspian Sea, according to the Associated Press.
Gov. Rick Perry, followed by Romney and Newt Gingrich, has asserted that foreign aid to all countries, including Israel, should be reset to "zero" before deciding who should get funding.
And while newly surging Gingrich is on record supporting military action against Iran if diplomatic efforts fail, it is President Obama who has really delivered. During his speech to Congress, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Obama's words and deeds: "President Obama has said that the U.S. is determined to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. The president successfully led the Security Council at the U.N. to adopt sanctions against Iran."
After the Security Council's resolution, President Obama signed into law the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act of 2010. He has backed up those actions and his defense of Israel in the United Nations by seeking unprecedented levels of security assistance and military aid for Israel and conducting more joint military exercises. He has built coalitions where others have failed. Under his leadership, Osama bin Laden was hunted down and killed, and the Gadhafi regime in Libya brought down.
In other words, President Obama has been clear-headed and clear-acting on Iran, as he has been in his steadfast support for Israel.
I, for one, am grateful for his leadership and am counting on him to ensure that the current dance of politics and diplomacy will not put Israel or the United States at peril.
Betsy R. Sheerr of Philadelphia is a long-time pro-Israel activist who is involved in Democratic politics.