Why Obama Is Tougher on Iran Than Romney Could Ever Be

It seemed, a few weeks ago, that the Iran issue was waning; now it seems to be waxing again. If you want to read an article that is giving Centcom commanders pause (not that they aren't worried already), read Joby Warrick's excellent account of Iran's Persian Gulf military preparations. The Iranian Navy -- both Iranian navies, in fact, the regular navy and especially the Revolutionary Guard Corps navy (IRGCN)-- could do some real damage to American warships, if there is a Gulf confrontation. (I wrote about the threat of the IRGCN's speedboats here.)

Israel has been inundated this past month with visits from high-ranking U.S. officials, all coming armed with intelligence to suggest that there is still time for the West to act against Iran's nuclear program (and by time, they mean post-November 6 time). Israel is also getting a visit this weekend from Mitt Romney, who is attempting to convince Americans that he will be tougher on Iran than Barack Obama. In my Bloomberg View column this week, I lay out why this might not be the case -- why, in fact, Romney would be seriously hamstrung in his dealings with Iran, if he is elected president. Here are just a few of the reasons why he would have a potentially hard time confronting Iran militarily:

Romney would be a new president in 2013, which could plausibly be the year for a preventive attack. He will be inexperienced, and his national security team will be new and potentially inexperienced as well. 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 and confidence 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 and credibility as a result. Romney, despite his rhetoric, is more of a pragmatist than Bush, and far more cautious. An attack on Iran is an incautious act, one that even Bush rejected.

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; liberals are generally better positioned to launch preventive strikes at the nuclear programs of rogue nations. 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, after all, who won the Nobel Peace Prize while ordering the automated killing of suspected Muslim terrorists around the world.) Romney will get no comparative slack.
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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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