Memo to Republicans: Obama Is Tougher on Iran Than George W. Bush

Michael Shear has a useful round-up about continuing Republican efforts to paint Barack Obama as soft on Iran:

Mitt Romney has called Iran's nuclear ambitions Mr. Obama's "greatest failing" and said during a debate in New Hampshire last month that the president "did not do what was necessary to get Iran to be dissuaded from their nuclear folly."

Rick Santorum has accused Mr. Obama of acting "naively and cavalierly" about Iran's potential for nuclear weapons, saying on his Web site that "if Barack Obama has taught us anything, it's that experience matters."

These are not serious attacks. We have reached this point in the Iranian nuclear drama for many reasons. The main reason, of course, is that Iran, which behaves generally as an outlaw state, is defying the international community by pursuing what appears to be a nuclear weapons program. Why is Iran pursuing this program so ardently? Well, one reason is that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein by George W. Bush (for which you will hear few complaints on Goldblog) convinced the Iranian regime that it needs the insurance policy represented by a nuclear weapons program. This is not the only reason, of course: Iran has hegemonic pretensions, and these can be best expressed through the acquisition of a nuclear capability. Iran also feels that it is surrounded by enemies, and like many countries in such situations, it believes a nuclear arsenal will aid it discouraging regional adversaries from adventurism. To acknowledge this fact is not to endorse the motivation or the analysis (the Iranian regime may want to ask itself why this situation has come to pass, but introspection is not a popular sport in the greater Middle East.)

There is another reason we have arrived at this moment of high tension: The Obama Administration, through its stalwart opposition to the Iranian nuclear program, has narrowed Iran's maneuverability, and forced the regime to make some obvious errors (the alleged sponsorship of an attempt to kill the Saudi ambassador in Washington, for instance). It is precisely because the Obama Administration has constructed a sanctions program without precedent, and because the Obama Administration has funded and supported multinational cyber-sabotage efforts against the Iranian nuclear program, that Iran is panicking and lashing-out.

It is not only Israeli leaders who have doubted Obama's commitment to stop Iran's nuclear program; Iran's leaders themselves didn't take Obama seriously. After all, George W. Bush labeled Iran's government a member of the axis of evil, but then did nothing much at all to thwart its ambitions. But Obama, while avoiding rhetorical drama, has actually done more to stop Iran than the Bush Administration ever did.

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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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