In less than five months Americans will elect a President that will begin his term at one of the most defining hours of history. At a time when both domestic and international issues are vying for voter’s attention and candidate’s positions are being scrutinized, there is one thing that is certain – Addressing the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran will be a presidential priority.
As we near the November elections, there is little doubt that our next president will make decisions about Iran that will affect our approach to terrorism, international security, the global economy and the Middle East. In such critical matters of national and international security, it is important to understand the core issues surrounding the Iranian threat and to recognize that the beliefs, attitudes and approach of our next our president will largely shape our future course of action. In this article I intend to summarize the nuclear crisis in Iran and then present each presidential candidate’s position on this issue.
The Iranian Threat:
In discussing the eminent threat that Iran poses, consider the following: First, Iran continues to make significant progress in its ability to enrich uranium in direct defiance of three U.N. Security Council resolutions. On May 26, 20008 a report issued by the International Atomic Energy Agency 1 heightened international concern about the scope and nature of Iran’s nuclear program. This report examined the implementation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty Safeguards Agreement2 and provisions of the U.N. Security Council resolutions in Iran. This report concluded that, contrary to the decisions of the Security Council, Iran has not suspended its enrichment related activities, and has continued the operation of PFEP (Pilot Fuel enrichment Plant) and FEP (Fuel Enrichment Plant). In addition, they have continued the installation of both new cascades and a new generation centrifuges for test purposes and continued the construction of IR-40 (Iran Nuclear Research Reactor).1 Iran continues to advance its enrichment efforts while denying international inspectors access to key nuclear facilities and failing to address concern regarding its nuclear pursuit. The report, for example, accused Iran of a willful lack of cooperation in answering questions about military activities related to its illicit nuclear program. 1
According to Gregory Schultz, the chief U.S. delegation to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the recent IAEA report reveals a strong defiance by Tehran toward the international community’s efforts to get answers about troubling parts of the Iranian nuclear program. Schultz told the Associated Press that parts of the report were a “direct rebuttal” of Iranian claims that all nuclear questions had been answered. The report also alleges that Iran is learning to make faster, more powerful, and more efficient centrifuges which means that Iran may be producing enriched uranium faster than expected. According to David Albright, a former weapons inspector who now runs the Institute for Science and International security, “The Iranians are certainly being confronted with some pretty strong evidence of a nuclear weapons program, and they are being petulant and defensive. The report lays out what the agency knows, and it is very damning.” 3
Since December 2006, the UN has imposed three rounds of tough sanctions on Iran for its ongoing uranium enrichment programs. Iranian officials insist that they are developing a civilian nuclear program for peaceful means, but the international community continues to uncover evidence that points to the development of nuclear weapons. The international community affirms Iran’s right to have a civilian nuclear program. They have even offered Iran assistance in their development of civilian nuclear energy in exchange for cooperation in revealing information about the current nature of their nuclear development. On Saturday, June 14th European Union diplomat Javier Solana presented Iran with a modified package of economic, technological and political incentives on behalf of the United States, Germany, Britain, France, Russia and China. Iran immediately rejected the deal because of its requirements to suspend uranium enrichment. 4 In response to this news, President Bush and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France addressed Iran’s defiance. President Sarkozy said, “Anyone is entitled—including Iran— access to civilian nuclear energy. We will help them to do so if they act in good faith. If the Iranian authorities are in good faith then they should let inspectors run their course. If they have nothing to hide, then they have nothing to hide…The door is wide open to access civilian nuclear technology….but as far as military nuclear access is concerned, this is ‘no’ on the part of the international community.” 5 President Bush said, “Now they (Iran) say, well, we want civilian nuclear power. And as I explained to Nicholas today, I agree, they should have the right to have civilian nuclear power. As a matter of fact, Vladimir Putin delivered that very message to the Iranian regime. He also delivered this message: that because you have been untrustworthy, because you haven’t fully disclosed your programs to the IAEA in the past, that we can’t trust you to
The international community has repeatedly given Iran the message that they not only have the right to pursue civilian nuclear power, but that the international community would even support Iran in acquiring fuel for civilian purposes. In December of 2007, Russia, with the approval of the U.N., began delivering nuclear fuel to a reactor that it is helping Iran build at Bushehr. 6 The enriched uranium that Russia is shipping to Iran can be used as fuel in nuclear power stations. When it is more highly enriched, it can be used to make nuclear weapons. The message that the international community is sending to Iran is that Iran does not need to enrich for peaceful purposes because Russia and the international community have agreed to support Iran in acquiring civilian nuclear energy.
The second thing that is critical to understand in assessing the nuclear threat that Iran poses is the ideology directing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. By all accounts Iran appears determined to develop nuclear weapons. U.S intelligence agencies believe that Iran could be capable of producing enough highly enriched uranium for a weapon between 2010 and 2015. The issue of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons has been a heightened concern in recent years. The threat is centered on several issues; one of the most disturbing is the fact that Iranian President Ahmadinejad is an apocalyptic Shiite Muslim who belongs to the radical sect know as Hojjatieh Shiism. His adherence to these radical beliefs coupled with his repeated calls for the destruction of Israel and the United States 7 pose a serious threat to all of Western civilization.
The Hojjatieh movement is considered to be so radical that it was banned in 1983 by the Ayatollah Khomeini and is still opposed by the majority of the Iranian clerics. 9 As part of this group, Ahmadinezhad believes in the imminent return of the 12th or Hidden Imam (also called the Mahdi), which is their Messiah. The Washington Institute for Near East Policy recently published a well documented study on the interplay of radical religious ideology with Iranian politics in a paper entitled “Apocalyptic Politics on the Rationality of Iranian Policy”. 8 The radical group to which Ahmadinezhad belongs believes that it is their prophetic mission to change Iranian society in preparation for the coming of the Mahdi. The Mahdi is the Muslim savior who will appear before the end of time to establish a just world government. The Shiites believe that Mahdi was born in 868AD as the 12th Iman, but has been in a state of occultation since that time. They believe that in the last days God will make Mahdi appear. One of the signs of Mahdi’s return is deviation from Islam and according to the Quran, this deviation was accomplished through Christianity and Judaism. This group of Apocalyptic Shiite Muslims believe that after centuries of Judeo- Christian hegemony, Islam is corrupt and the Mahdi has to return in order to bring back authentic Islam. According to their tradition, when Mahdi returns he will introduce “True Islam”.
One of the most disturbing elements of Ahmadinezhad’s ideology is the belief that chaos and bloodshed must precede the return of the 12th Imam, and the emphasis on human ability to direct these events. By creating apocalyptic chaos, the Hojjatiehs believe they are able to hasten Mahdi’s reappearance, the institution of Islamic government worldwide, and the destruction of all competing faiths. Ahmadinezhad’s adherence to this ideology has dictated his presidency and he has repeatedly made public statements demonstrating his belief in a personal call to the mission of preparing the way for Mahdi. Consider the following statements made by Ahmadinezhad after he won the presidential election:
· “Our revolution’s main mission is to pave the way for the reappearance of the 12th Imam, the Mahdi. We should define our economic, cultural and political policies on the policy of the Imam Mahdi’s return.” 10
· “We did not carry out the Islamist revolution in order to introduce democracy. Our revolution seeks to achieve worldwide power. The new Islamic revolution will cut out the roots of injustice throughout the world. The era of the godless regime, tyranny and injustice has come to an end. The wave of the Islamist revolution will soon reach the entire world.” 10
According to an article in Frontline Magazine, Ahmadinezhad’s adherence to Hojjatieh fuels his political ambitions. As Mayor of Tehran, Ahmadinezhad advocated for widening the roads to accommodate the Mahdi’s triumphal entry into the city, and one of his first acts of office as President was to dedicate approximately $20 million to the restoration and improvement of the mosque at Jamkaran, where the Mahdi is claimed to dwell. 9
As we weigh the Iran’s nuclear ambition, it would be gross negligence to dismiss the apocalyptic element of Ahmadinezhad’s faith or the serious nature of his threat to “wipe Israel off the face of the earth”. Ahmadinejad believes that a great cataclysm of bloodshed anticipates the return of the 12th Iman, (in particular the destruction of Jews and Christians) that will usher in a new day of Islamic world dominance.
Any analyses that fail to take into account the religious ideology that drives Ahmadinejad’s nuclear ambitions tend to classify Ahmadinejad’s threats as the mere saber-rattling of a political leader. They quickly point to the grave consequences Iran would suffer at the hands of Israel and the U.S. for a nuclear attack. Assessments that do not take into account the ideological paradigm that structures Ahmadinjad’s thinking are dangerous. The traditional Western strategy of deterrence by threats of retaliation with dire consequences, does not work when addressing an apocalyptic Shiite culture that predicts and even rewards martyrdom at the hands of infidels. Consider the following statement made by Ahmadinejad in February 2006:
“We are all obliged to keep alive the culture of martyrdom-seeking in the society. Culture of martyrdom-seeking is our most effective weapon and best guarantee for out national security. Ruthless enemies who have a chronic enmity against our country and our nation have not succeeded in achieving their objectives so far, thanks to the existence of this culture of martyrdom-seeking among our nation. He who is ready for martyrdom is always victorious. Martyrdom is the peak of mankind’s perfection and the martyrs enjoy the highest status of humanity in this world and the Hereafter. People spend tough years of strenuous work in a bid to achieve the peaks of grandeur and pride, while our dear martyrs achieve those high peaks in shortest possible time.” 9
Former Iranian President, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, made this revealing statement in December 2001, “If a day comes when the world of Islam is duly equipped with the arms Israel has in possession, the strategy of colonialism would face a stalemate because application of an atomic bomb would not leave anything in Israel, but the same thing would just produce minor damages in the Muslim world.” 13. Rafsanjani was saying that a nuclear exchange between Iran and Israel would eliminate Israel (due to their smaller population) and leave Iran still functioning. Clearly the Iranian administration has thought about this scenario.
In light of Iran’s nuclear ambition and Ahmadinejad’s threats to both the United States and Israel, we would be wise to pay attention. In the minds of most Americans, a nuclear armed Iran is not an option. Yet we live in an era of globalization where domestic and international issues are becoming more entwined and complex, and the partisan politics of an election year continue to complicate the issues. Regardless of the challenges that we face, we must bear in mind that time is on Iran’s side. We cannot be distracted from this issue even though there is not a “neat and easy” solution. The cost to confronting Iran will be high, but the cost to appeasing Iran until they have a nuclear weapon is not an option.
So far I have discussed the immanent threat that Iran poses and presented the evidence that demonstrates that international diplomacy efforts and U.N. sanctions have not deferred Iran from progressing with their development of nuclear weapons. As the international community grapples with “next steps”, a military strike on Iran’s’ nuclear facilities is certainly on the table. If the United States initiates or participates in a military strike, the U.S. and the rest of the international community are certain to incur a high cost. Most people recognize that living with a nuclear armed Iran is not a viable option, but as time is running out and the American public is growing weary of U.S. involvement abroad, much of the conversation surrounding a military strike is focused on an Israel led attack and talk in Israel has shifted from “if” to “when”. With troops still committed in Iraq, it seems that there is not a broad base of support at home for a U.S. led strike, but key advisors to both presidential candidates were among recent participants on a panel on U.S.–Israel relations that was convened by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Both representatives spoke on the need and importance of U.S.–Israel cooperation and partnership in dealings with Iran. Even if a military strike occurs at the end of this administration’s term, our next president will lead our nation forward in facing the unique international threats that are eminent.
Most experts believe that a military strike is unlikely to occur before the election, but chances are very good that Israel will launch an attack before the January inauguration and will need the support of the U.S. to succeed in their mission An Israeli attack on Iran will almost certainly need the go ahead from the U.S because of airspace over eastern Turkey and Iraq that is controlled by the U.S. and because a successful campaign to wipe out Iran’s nuclear capacities would require several waves of air attacks that would necessitate U.S assistance. Michael Rubin (a colleague of John Bolton- former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations) stated, “The thing that makes an Israeli strike more likely is when any U.S. politician gets up and says that Iran can be contained” 11 Israel can not and will not live with a nuclear armed Iran. They understand the threat they face and recognize that the situation in Iran has progressed past sanctions, diplomacy and incentives. Israel is preparing to take action and will need U.S. support to insure the success of their mission.
As we weigh the options of a military strike we must consider the price that we are likely to pay for such an operation. First, Iran would likely close the Strait of Hormuz through which 40% of the world’s oil is exported. This would cause the already inflated oil prices to increase. 13 Second, Iranian proxies around the world (and particularly in Iraq, Lebanon and Israel) would be activated contributing to increased international violence and terrorism. Third, there would be an increase of anti-American sentiment around the world (particularly from the Muslim world), and forth, even if Iran’s nuclear facilities are totally destroyed, Iran already possess the technical skill and expertise to eventually rebuild their arsenal which means that the international community would have to play an active and ongoing role in ensuring that any attempts of a dangerous nuclear build up in Iran is thwarted.
There is no denying the high cost associated with a pre-emptive strike, yet equally undeniable is the cost of doing nothing. If Iran is not stopped, they will become the hegemonic power in the Middle East. In an article that appeared in The Washington Post, entitled “The Tehran Calculus”, Charles Krauthammer says, “There is the larger danger of permitting nuclear weapons to be acquired by religious fanatics seized with an eschatological belief in the imminent apocalypse and in their own divine duty to hasten the End of Days. The mullahs are infinitely more likely to use these weapons than anyone in the history of the nuclear age. Every city in the civilized world will live under the specter of instant annihilation delivered either by missile or by terrorist. This from a country that has an official Death to American Day and has declared since Ayatollah Khomeninis ascension that Israel must be wiped off the map.” 13 Krauthammer concludes by posing this provocative question: “Against millenarian fanaticism glorying in a cult of death, deterrence is a mere wish. Is the west prepared to wager it’s cities with their millions of inhabitants on the feeble gamble?” 13 The question that Krauthammer poses is something we need to ask ourselves as we prepare to elect our next president. Aside from the obvious, a nuclear armed Iran would pose a direct threat to U.S national security by altering the strategic balance of the Middle East. The actual acquisition of a nuclear weapon by Iran would embolden the fundamentalist regime in Tehran to carry out its radical apocalyptic foreign policy agenda by offering backing to its terrorist allies, and a nuclear armed Iran is also sure to set off a nuclear-arms race in the Middle East which would heighten the odds of a nuclear attack by some regime or radical in the near future.
The Presidential Candidate’s Position on Iran:
As we near the November Presidential Election, we must select a president knowing that our position toward Iran will have far reaching consequences. How do our presidential candidates fare when it comes to Iran? Both candidates acknowledge that Iran needs to be a priority, both have said that all options (including a military operation) must remain on the table, but there are some divergence approaches that become apparent when examining McCain and Obama’s response to Iran that reflect their general disposition when it comes to international issues.
Obama’s Position on Iran:
On June 16th McCain and Obama campaign representatives discussed each candidate’s strategies for reducing nuclear dangers at an Arms Control Association event aimed at addressing the current and future challenges facing the global nuclear nonproliferation system. The speeches given that day were very revealing. John Holum (representing Senator Obama) specifically addressed the nuclear threat of Iran by criticizing the Bush Administration for its policy of not having diplomatic relations with Iran (diplomatic relations with Iran ceased 28 years ago when the Ayatollah of Khomeini, came to power in Iran). Holum said that “Not talking (to Ahmadinejad) is the diplomatic equivalent of holding your breath until you pass out, employed against someone who prefers you unconscious” 14 Holum went on to stress the need for diplomacy stating that the absence of diplomacy has not worked. Holums address highlighted Obama’s main philosophy and approach to Iran and other international threats— that of diplomacy. Obama repeatedly continues to criticize the present administration for not having diplomatic relations with Ahmadinejad and last year, Senator Obama stated that he would be willing to meet with Ahmadinejad without preconditions. During the Arms Control Association event, Stephen Biegun (representing Senator McCain) said, “Senator McCain is not at all critical of diplomacy. In fact, he firmly supports it as the first and best opportunity for the United States to resolve issues of all matters around the world, including nuclear proliferation. But the statement by a presidential hopeful that within the first year of their presidency, with no conditions, at the highest level of government, they would meet with a leader, with a tyrant as important as President Ahmedinejad without preconditions not only provides a level of prestige and recognition to a leader like Ahmedinejad, but it also has the consequence of actually doing harm to the existing diplomacy that is underway right now. All President Ahmedinejad has to hold out for now is the hopeful victory of President Obama. Why should he, during the interim, have any serious negotiations with the European allies who are working so hard to bring an end to Iran’s nuclear ambitions?” 14
The problem with Obama’s approach to Iran (and other serious international issues) is that it is naively based on esoteric ideologies that frame international problems in a paradigm of moral neutrality that refuses to view the current crises through the historical, political, religious and ideological principles that accurately help to inform international policy decisions and aid us in understanding the actions of leaders like Ahmedinejad. Consider this statement made by Obama in a recent interview when he was asked if he would be willing to meet separately, without precondition, during the first year of his administration, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea. Obama replied by reasserting his position and saying, “I would. And the reason is this: the notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them–which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration — is ridiculous. ..I think that it is a disgrace that we have not spoken to them.” 15 Obama has actually criticized the U.S. diplomacy stating that “Our diplomacy has been compromised by a refusal to talk to people we don’t like.” 20
I find it very disturbing that a presidential hopeful views a lack of formal diplomatic relations as a “disgraceful form of punishment” inflicted by the U.S upon a hostile nation. To say that Obama lacks insight and understanding about U.S. diplomacy, would be an understatement. The fact that the United States no longer has formal diplomatic relations with Iran is not a “punishment” tactic, nor the result of mere “dislike”. Our current foreign relations with Iran evolved out of the 1979 Islamic Revolution when Iran made it very clear that Western influence was not welcome or desired in that nation. Perhaps someone should remind Obama that the United States had formal diplomatic relations with Iran until 1979 when Iranians revolted, and Ayatollah Khomeini became Iran’s new leader. Khomeini then began speaking out against the U.S, calling our nation the “Great Satan” and the Islamic Republic positioned itself as a global revolutionary leader under the slogan “neither East nor West” (referring to the Soviet and American/West European models), calling for the overthrow of capitalism, American influence, and social injustice in the Middle East and the rest of the world. In its region, the Iranian Islamic revolutionaries called specifically for the overthrow of monarchies and their replacement with Islamic republics. Then on November 4, 1979, a group of Iranian students (in support of Iran’s revolution and anti-American position) took over the American embassy holding 52 U.S. diplomats hostage for 444 days.
To assert that a lack of formal diplomatic relations with hostile nations, such as Iran, is a punishment tactic is clearly an uninformed position. Secretary Rice has said repeatedly “The question is not why the U.S won’t meet with Iran. The question is why Iran won’t meet with the U.S.” 15 Since 1979, every previous U.S. attempt at engagement with Iran (Carter, Reagan and Clinton all tried) –was spurned and taken as a sign of weakness. McCain pointed out the error in Obama’s accusations against the U.S. when he stated: “In reality, a series of administrations have tried to talk to Iran, and none tried harder than the Clinton administration. In 1998, the secretary of state made a public overture to the Iranians, laid out a roadmap to normal relations, and for two years tried to engage,” he said. “The Clinton administration even lifted some sanctions, and Secretary Albright apologized for American actions going back to the 1950s. But even under President Khatami — a man by all accounts less radical than the current president — Iran rejected these overtures.” 15 Our future president should have a basic understanding that Iran’s current foreign policy position has two primary guiding principles: eliminating outside influences in the region and pursuing extensive diplomatic contacts with developing and non-aligned countries. The Supreme Leader of Iran, Khamenei has even said that “cutting ties with America is among our basic policies,” and “any relations would provide the possibility to the Americans to infiltrate Iran and would pave the way for their intelligence and spy agents,” 17 Khamenei’s only desire for future relations with the U.S. is based on furthering the Iranian agenda. Khamenei stated, “We have never said that the relations will remain severed forever. Undoubtedly, the day the relations with America prove beneficial for the Iranian nation I will be the first one to approve of that.” 17 In speeches Khamenei consistently dwells on the familiar themes of the 1979 revolution: the importance of justice, independence, self-sufficiency, and Islam; the need for resolute opposition to Israel and United States. 17
Furthermore, any assertion that diplomacy is the winning approach to dealing with the nuclear threat of Iran, reveals a serious lack of understanding about the multifaceted diplomatic approaches that have already been employed toward Iran by the international community. Is Obama aware that the United States has joined diplomatic efforts with Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia in offering incentives for Iran to halt their uranium enrichment? Is Obama aware of the three rounds of U.N. sanctions that have been implemented due to Iran’s non-compliance with the international community? Is Obama aware that Iran’s form of “diplomacy” with the U.S. was revealed in the eighteen page letter that Ahmadinezhad sent to President Bush in 2006 inviting him to convert to the Muslim faith, or suffer the consequences for not doing so? Obama, revealed his glaring ignorance in understanding Iran during a recent interview when he claimed that the Iranian threat is ‘tiny’ compared to the threat once posed by the former Soviet Union. 15
Like Obama, we all wish for a world without war, nuclear weapons, conflict, and terrorism. A world where serious issues can be addressed by simply “talking it out” and respecting each others views. Yes, Obama can be admired, and votes will certainly be won for his idealistic view of international issues. In fact, his idealistic approach seems to resonate with the rising Anti-American sediment that views U.S. international policy as increasingly aggressive. For some, I imagine that this perspective brings a certain level of comfort because it puts the onus of responsibility on the U.S. and gives us the hope that our international problems can be alleviated by a president like Obama, who simply vows to bring “change” by “making friends with our enemies” through diplomacy. For others Obama’s rhetoric of the U.S. “distasteful” foreign relations with the likes of Iran, are a disturbing reflection of a simplistic, misinformed idealism that is coupled with a view of the U.S. as an international aggressor. A view that, in my opinion, is a little to close to comfort to the “Great Satan” portrayal of our nation that seems to be winning converts.
In his closing remarks at the Arms Control Association event, John Holm (representing Obama) said, “Finally, a few words on supporting Obama because of who he is. It will take at least a generation…to repair the damage to U.S. international interest inflicted by George W. Bush and ideologues whose pet theories became his lodestars…we have a long struggle ahead just to rebuild alliances and coalitions fractured by the swaggering, go-it-alone mentality and forge new collective measures effectively to address challenges as diverse as climate change, radical Islam, and WMD proliferation.” 14 In these closing remarks, Holm again reveals what I believe is a dangerous paradigm of the Obama camp—that of justifying international aggression toward the “International Bully” (the U.S.) and vowing to “repair” relationships. His strategy: meeting with regimes that have been and are hostile to the U.S. without preconditions. Although Obama says that all options should be kept on the table when dealing with Iran, he has criticized the current administrations warning about the imminent threat of Iran and has demonstrated a hesitance to employ “all” options in the face of such a threat. Last September, in a Iowa speech, Obama said “we hear eerie echoes of the run-up to the war in Iraq in the way that the President and Vice President talk about Iran. … They issue veiled threats. They suggest that the time for diplomacy and pressure is running out when we haven’t even tried direct diplomacy. Well George Bush and Dick Cheney must hear — loud and clear — from the American people and the Congress: you don’t have our support, and you don’t have our authorization for another war.” 19
McCain’s Position on Iran:
Stephen Biegun, replied to Holm’s statement (about the damaged U.S. International interest) by saying, “Senator McCain doesn’t need to reconnect the United States to the world; Senator McCain, as a leader of the United States, is well connected to the world. Countries like Mexico and Canada, countries like Colombia, European allies to whom he has never pejoratively referred as having had U.S. diplomacy outsourced to them as if their efforts are feeble. There is no need for Senator McCain to reconnect to anyone. In the course of his campaign, in the course of his 40 years of public service, he has shown at every turn a willingness to listen to allies, a close cooperation with them. He’s traveled extensively. He’s been to the places that challenge the United States and I encourage you to reflect long and hard upon the importance of that experience, that credibility, and that reputation with friend and foe alike.” 14 Biegun, in his closing remarks accurately asserted the United State’s connection to the world. The United States has one of the largest diplomatic presences of any nation. Almost every country in the world has both a U.S. embassy and an embassy of its own in Washington, D.C. Furthermore in nations where no U.S. diplomatic post exists, American relations are usually conducted indirectly through a third-party. In the case of Iran, since the 1979 siege of the U.S. embassy in Tehran, the ambassador of Switzerland has acted as intermediary between Tehran and Washington D.C.
Senator McCain’s experience certainly goes a long way when it comes to dealing with nations like Iran. McCain has accurately described Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism, acknowledging Iran’s support of terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hizbollah. McCain has also acknowledged the Iranian regimes training, financing and equipping of the extremists in Iraq who have killed American soldiers. McCain understands the role that Iran plays as the world’s chief sponsor of terrorism that threatens to destabilize the entire Middle East. In an interview appearing in Haaretz in October 2007, McCain demonstrated his awareness of the serious threat that Iran poses when asked if he would go to Congress to get authorization to take military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities. McCain responded by saying, “If the situation is that it requires immediate action to ensure the security of the United States of America, that’s what you take your oath to do. If it’s a long series of build-ups, where the threat becomes greater and greater, of course you want to go to Congress. So it obviously depends on the scenario. And I believe that this is a possibility that is, maybe, closer to reality than we are discussing tonight.” 21
McCain not only understands the dynamics of the Iranian threat, but he has also boldly demonstrated his commitment to take the Iranian threat seriously. In dealing with Iran, McCain has already proposed a range of practical actions including the use of sanctions against Iran as well as the launching of a worldwide divestment campaign similar to the one used to successfully wipe out apartheid in South Africa. McCain has long said that the military option should not be taken off the table but has emphasized that a military option should only be used as a last resort. 23 McCain has repeatedly demonstrated his understanding of the Iranian issue and has challenged Obama on his miscalculations of this threat. Last month when Obama stated: “Iran, Cuba, Venezuela – these countries are tiny compared to the Soviet Union. They don’t pose a serious threat to us the way the Soviet Union posed a threat to us. And yet we were willing to talk to the Soviet Union at the time when they were saying, ‘We’re going to wipe you off the planet.'”20 McCain accurately responded by saying, “Such a statement betrays the depth of Senator Obama’s inexperience and reckless judgment. These are very serious deficiencies for an American president to possess,” 22 McCain added, “The threat the government of Iran poses is anything but tiny,” 22
In American politics, domestic issues have historically commanded more attention during presidential elections. But today we find ourselves in the midst a global economy and heighten international threats that we cannot ignore. When it comes to Iran, both McCain and Obama have similar stated positions. Both say that Iran is a priority and that all options are on the table. But beneath the rhetoric, there is a vast divide in attitude and position. In his approach to complex international issues, Obama is set on changing American foreign policy abroad. As president, Obama will no doubt keep his promise to meet with America’s enemies and challenge America’s friends. 24. And for those who, like Obama, view American foreign policy as aggressive and “disgraceful” Obama will be a welcomed leader. Obama’s foreign policy is based on change, diplomacy and his multicultural background. In discussing Obama’s approach to foreign relations, a recent article appearing in U.S. News and World Report noted: “When it comes to changing foreign views of the United States, Obama’s aids play up two themes. First, he makes a very clear break from Bush in both substance and style. Then they emphasize his biography. Not only would he be the first African-American president; he was born to a Kenyan father and lived in Indonesia as a child. ‘Barack Obama is this singular American story in terms of the different strands of his background…the fact that he has roots in Africa and Asia- that in itself is a very powerful image.” 25
McCain on the other hand has many years of foreign policy experience including serving as the national security adviser and Navy secretary under President Regan. 25 Understanding international issues and U.S. foreign policy are McCain’s strength. This strength becomes evident when McCain addresses foreign policy issues and discusses the Iranian threat. Unfortunately many Americans are growing weary of ongoing international commitment and have a limited understanding of the perilous world we live in. To those who are weighed down with domestic concerns and are weary of our increasing involvement in international conflict, McCain’s assessment of the international scene and promise to confront threats as necessary is not generally welcomed news. This puts McCain in a precarious position as he attempts to win the November election, while proposing to honestly confronting the challenges ahead. Obama, on the other hand, with his rhetoric of change and his simplistic solutions to complex issues somehow provides hope—a hope that we can escape the perilous world and return to simpler days–days when the cost of neutrality and failed diplomacy were not so high.
As we approach the November elections, it is my hope that Americans will become educated on international issues that are certain to greatly effect the future course of our nation. Whether we like it or not, the United States faces complex challenges that require a leader that is equipped to deal with these sobering realities. As we head to the polls let’s not forget that a democracy is only as good as those who lead it, and a democracy created to be “of the people and for the people” will certainly elect a president that reflects the citizen’s thoughts and attitudes about the future role of our nation. As we approach the November elections, one thing is certain: The president that we elect will face unprecedented challenges in carving out the future direction of our nation, and the president that we elect will reflect our understanding of world events.
1. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Report: Implication of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and relevant provisions of Security Council resolutions 1737 (2006), 1747 (2007) and 1803 in the Islamic Republic of Iran. <au 26. 200 http://www.iaea.org/Publications/Documents/Board/2008/gov2008-15.pdf
2. Special Non-Proliferation Agreement Safeguards Agreements http://www.nti.org/c_press/treaties_8.pdf
3.“Harsh report on Iranian nuclear program raises alarm” by Elaine Sciolino, May 27, 2008 International Herald Tribune. www.iht.com/bin
4. “Bush criticizes Iran decision on nuclear program” by Deb Riechmann (Associated Press Writer) June 14, 2008
5. Text of Bush-Sarkozy News Conference” by The Associated Press, June 14, 2008 http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080614/ap_on_re_us/bush_sarkozy_text_1&printer=1;_ylt=Ahi2w7Rzu.hDJhugy3gYQwtH2ocA
6. Russia ships nuclear fuel to Iran-BBC News, December 17, 2007 http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7147463.stm
7. “ Words of Hate Iran’s Escalating Threats” AIPAC Memo, Oct. 25, 2006 http://www.aipac.org/Publications/AIPACAnalysesMemos/AIPAC_Memo_-_WordsOfHate.pdf
8. “Apocalyptic Politics on the Rationality of Iran Policy” by Mehdi Khalaji, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy 2008
9. . “Ahmadinejad’s Apocalyptic Faith” http://www.frontpagemag.com/Articles/Read.aspx?GUID=32B294D4-A21C-4095-8D59-1B49230E3F5D
10. Iran, Israel & the 12th Imam; by Tony Pearce http://www.articleandsuch.com/news-events/article839.htm
11. “If Israel Attaks Iran, What would the U.S. Do?” by Ron Kampeas (JTA) ; The Jewish Ledger, June 26, 208.
12. The Unthinkable Consequences of an Iran-Israel Nuclear exchange, by Daniel Pipes, November 21, 2007.
13. The Tehran Calculus, the Washington Post, by Charales Krauthammer, September 15, 2006
14. “The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty at Forty: Addressing Current and Future Challenges” : ACA Event- June 16, 2008. http://www.armscontrol.org/events/20080321_membership_mtg_reg.asp
15. Obama’s Evolving Position on Talking to Iran; ABC News, June 4, 2008 http://blogs.abcnews.com/politicalradar/2008/06/obamas-evolving.html
16. McCain calls for Iran divestment effort by by Jill Zuckman; The Swamp- June 2, 2008http://www.swamppolitics.com/news/politics/blog/2008/06/mccain_calls_for_iran_divestme.html
17. Reading Khamenei: Iran’s Most Powerful Leader. http://www.carnegieendowment.org/files/sadjadpour_iran_final2.pd
18. McCain, Obama trade jabs over Iran policy – CNN May 19, 2008 http://www.cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/05/19/mccain.free.trade/index.html?eref=rss_mostpopular
19. Remarks of Senator Barack Obama: Turning the Page in Iraq Clinton, IA http://www.barackobama.com/2007/09/12/remarks_of_senator_barack_obam_23.php September 12, 2007
20. How Will the Next President reduce Nuclear Dangers? McCain and Obama Campaign Representatives Discuss Candidates Strategies: Feberal News Service Washington D.C. June 16, 2008
21. How McCain’s position on Iran fared better than Giuliani’s” Haaretz October 16, 2007 http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/pages/ShArt.jhtml?itemNo=913439
22. “McCain attacks Obama over Iran comments” by Libby Quaid : MyWay http://apnews.myway.com/article/20080519/D90OS7100.html
23. McCain on Iran: Military Option Is ‘Last Option'; NPR : January 23, 2006 by Steve Inskeep and Renee Montagne http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5167770
24. Obama’s Sword- August 03, 2007, by Mona Charen http://www.theconservativevoice.com/article/27048.html
25. Taking on a Perilous World, by Kevin Whitelaw, U.S. News and World Report, June 23-30, 2008.