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Mayo '13: What to do about Iran?


Last week, President Obama and former governor Mitt Romney met in Boca Raton, Fla., for the final presidential debate of this election cycle. They each presented their own vision for American foreign policy in the years ahead and provided some ideas on recent developments. While the President's recent fumble of the Libyan tragedy has been covered in depth by the media, the more critical aspect of foreign policy is the approach that each of these men will take to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the growing specter of Iran's nuclear program.
So far, Mr. Ahmadinejad has defied numerous overtures by the United States and others in the global community to cease his country's enrichment of uranium and continues to progress toward what its leaders claim is "peaceful and domestic energy use." While the Obama administration is right to urge caution in its dealings with a volatile Iran, it must not continue to be solely reliant upon economic sanctions that have, as of yet, failed to halt Iran's progress. As voters head to the ballot box this November, it is important they remind themselves that a nuclear Iran would be an immediate threat to our ally, Israel, and further destabilize an already turbulent Middle East. The next president must be ready and willing to draw a line in the sand for the Iranian regime - a line that Obama has continually been unwilling to draw.
Unfortunately, the Republicans' recrimination of the Obama approach and the White House's cheerleading on the matter have done nothing to advance the ball on an issue that will dramatically shape the balance of power in the Middle East in the coming years. Despite the ire between the two candidates, the actual policy differences between the president and Romney seem, so far, minimal at best. The largest difference has been one of tone, with Romney talking more critically of the Iranian regime and Obama seeming professorial on the matter. Neither of the candidates' stump speeches on the subject provide any clarity as to how they would handle the unfolding situation, but their common talking point does underscore a key reality that the next president must be willing to defend: "The United States cannot afford a nuclear Iran."
So, what is the best path to preventing such an outcome? Certainly, it isn't the status quo of the Obama administration. With the next four years likely to come as the critical window for Iran's nuclear development, it is imperative that the U.S. quit holding its breath in the hope that economic sanctions will alter Iran's policy calculus. Continuing in the footsteps of the Bush administration, Obama has opted to use the forum of the "P5-plus-1" group of the United Nations Security Council as the sole vehicle of dialogue with the Iranian regime. From this position, Obama continues to hurl economic sanctions against Iran by preventing large banks from lending money to the country and hampering demand for its oil exports. Despite the Democratic party's platform that "all options, including military force, remain on the table," the bottom line is that the President's current prescription of crippling sanctions has done nothing to halt Iran's nuclear progress. Perhaps this is why Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently warned, "Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don't have the moral right to place a red light before Israel."
As Iranian defiance of global sanctions grows louder and increasingly vitriolic, the United States will need more than UN Resolutions and long-winded diplomatic posturing to communicate its point to the Iranian regime.
Instead, in order to avert military conflict, the focus of the next President should not be on altering the calculus of the current Iranian regime, but fundamentally altering the regime itself. This is something that only the Iranian people can ultimately accomplish, but the United States need not be an inactive bystander in the process. More aggressive economic sanctions, vocal support of the Iranian opposition, less timidity in highlighting the consequences of continued inaction by Iran and the indictment of Mr. Ahmandinejad for his incitement to genocide under Article III of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide could help spur domestic discontent and global disapproval. In short, less talk, tougher talk and more action.
In the end, our dealings with Iran must also be inextricably linked to our ties with Israel, and it is critical that the next president patch over the unprecedented amount of daylight that has begun to show between the White House and our ally. More fundamentally, the premise that a nuclear Iran is ultimately worse than the costs of preventative military action that might eventually have to be borne must not be abandoned. This will require strength in leadership and clarity in purpose from our next president that, as of yet, Obama has failed to exhibit. Hopefully, over the coming days, Romney will get more specific as to how he would be any different.


Heath Mayo '13 is a political science and economics concentrator pursuing a master's degree in history. He can be reached at james_mayo@brown.edu.


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