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On Iran, Romney's Plan Resembles Obama's Reality

Jul 31, 2012
Originally published on July 31, 2012 11:40 pm

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney says America's national security priority should be preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, and he was talking tough about this in his recent stop in Jerusalem.

"History teaches with force and clarity that when the world's most despotic regimes secure the world's most destructive weapons, peace often gives way to oppression, to violence, or to devastating war," Romney said. "We must not delude ourselves into thinking that containment is an option."

Romney's language sounded a lot like President George W. Bush's on the eve of the Iraq war, says Bruce Jentleson, an analyst with ties to President Obama.

But rhetoric aside, the policy prescriptions sound much like Obama in his speech this year to the America Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobby.

"Iran's leaders should understand that I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon," Obama said at the conference.

The West believes Iran is developing nuclear weapons, a charge Tehran denies. Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

On Tuesday, Obama announced new sanctions against the Iranian energy sector to pressure Tehran to give up its nuclear ambitions. But this and other foreign policy matters are not expected to be big factors in the presidential election, says Jentleson, a professor at Duke University who is also on the national security advisory committee for the Obama campaign.

"There's no crystallizing foreign policy issue in 2012 the way that Iraq was in '08 or 9/11 in '04," Jentleson says. "Even if you go back to 1980 and, you know, the Iranian hostages and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. So, there's no single issue that affects the vote."

Jentleson says that's why Romney has hit broader themes, trying to portray himself as tougher than Obama.

"He's really trying to play this notion of he is very tough and, frankly, I think if you look at the public opinion polls and you just look at the general mood of the country after a decade of war, people don't want a president who is gun shy," Jentleson says. "But they also don't want a president who's too trigger happy."

On the other side of the political spectrum, self-proclaimed hawks on Iran see mainly consistency in U.S. policy toward the Islamic republic.

"Beyond Romney's rhetoric, there really isn't much there, there," says Michael Rubin of the conservative American Enterprise Institute think tank.

Rubin says he'd like to see tougher and broader sanctions on Iran, but Romney has only promised to do a better job enforcing existing sanctions.

"If Gov. Romney's main goal is economic discipline, he really does need to explain how his Iran policy is going to be consistent with fiscal discipline," Rubin says. "Simply put, can we afford to be even tougher on Iran than we are right now?"

Rubin sees no real differences between the two candidates on this; nor does Harvard University's Nicholas Burns, who worked in the George W. Bush administration on Iran, setting up the current policy of pressure and negotiations.

"It really would be refreshing if Gov. Romney and President Obama could stand together on this," Burns says. "I mean, they're obviously going to have lots of differences in the campaign on domestic and foreign policy issues, but on this one if there's no difference in reality, I think it would be refreshing if Gov. Romney would stop trying to make a difference and would stand with President Obama.

"That would show real solidarity. It might even impress the Iranians that we were unified. And it would serve the old adage that politics should stop at the water's edge."

Burns says that could help diplomats struggling to resolve what he calls the most difficult foreign policy problem facing the United States.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.

Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney was in Poland today on the last leg of a big overseas trip. It's been a rough week for the candidate. He first angered British officials for questioning their readiness for the Olympics, then Palestinians during a stop in Israel. One of the key goals of the trip was for Romney to set himself apart from President Obama on foreign policy. He's been hitting hard on the issue of Iran.

But as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports, the policies Romney's advocating are much the same as the president's.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Romney says America's national security priority should be preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. And he was talking tough about this in his recent stop in Jerusalem.

MITT ROMNEY: History teach us with force and clarity that when the world's most despotic regimes secure the world's most destructive weapons, peace often gives way to oppression, to violence or to devastating war. We must not delude ourselves into thinking that containment is an option.

KELEMEN: One analyst with ties to President Obama points out that Romney's language sounded a lot like President Bush on the eve of the Iraq War. But rhetoric aside, the policy prescriptions sound a lot like President Obama in his speech to the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC earlier this year.

(APPLAUSE)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Iran's leaders should understand that I do not have a policy of containment. I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

(APPLAUSE)

KELEMEN: Just today, he announced new sanctions against the Iranian energy sector to pressure Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions. But this and other foreign policy matters are not expected to be big factors in the presidential election, says Duke University professor Bruce Jentleson who is on a national security advisory committee for the Obama campaign.

BRUCE JENTLESON: There's no crystallizing foreign policy issue in 2012 the way that Iraq was in '08 or 9/11 in '04, even if you go back to 1980 and, you know, the Iranian hostages and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. So there's no single issue that affects the vote.

KELEMEN: Jentleson says that's why Romney has been hitting more broad themes, trying to portray himself as tougher than President Obama.

JENTLESON: He is really trying to play this notion of he is very tough. And, frankly, I think if you look at the public opinion polls and you just look at the general mood of the country after a decade of war, people don't want a president who is gun shy, but they also don't want a president who's too trigger happy.

KELEMEN: On the other side of the political spectrum, self-proclaimed hawks on Iran see mainly consistency in U.S. policy toward Iran.

MICHAEL RUBIN: Beyond Romney's rhetoric, there really isn't much there, there.

KELEMEN: That's Michael Rubin of the conservative think tank the American Enterprise Institute. He'd like to see tougher and broader sanctions on Iran, but Romney has only promised to do a better job enforcing existing sanctions.

RUBIN: If Governor Romney's main goal is economic discipline, he really does need to explain how his Iran policy is going to be consistent with fiscal discipline. Simply put, can we afford to be even tougher on Iran than we are right now?

KELEMEN: Rubin sees no real differences between the two candidates on this, nor does Harvard University's Nicholas Burns who worked in the Bush administration on Iran setting up the current policy of pressure and negotiations.

NICHOLAS BURNS: And it really would be refreshing if Governor Romney and President Obama could stand together on this. I mean, they're obviously going to have lots of differences in the campaign on domestic and foreign policy issues. But on this one, if there's no difference in reality, I think it would be refreshing if Governor Romney would stop trying to make a difference and would stand with President Obama.

That would show real solidarity. It might even impress the Iranians that we were unified. And it would serve the old adage that politics should stop at the water's edge.

KELEMEN: Burns says that could help diplomats struggling to resolve what he calls the most difficult foreign policy problem facing the U.S. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.