I’ll start with the similarities. In a speech in Jerusalem before roughly 300 donors, Romney asserted, “We must not delude ourselves into thinking that containment is an option.” President Obama agrees, stating in a speech to AIPAC earlier this year that “Iran's leaders should know that I do not have a policy of containment. I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”
Taking a step back from foreign policy advisor Dan Senor’s comments that Romney would “respect” a unilateral Israeli attack against Iran, Romney remarked in an interview with CBS that “We respect the right of a nation to defend itself.” In March, at the same AIPAC speech in which Obama distanced himself from a policy of containment, Obama proclaimed, “Iran’s leaders should have no doubt about the resolve of the United States, just as they should not doubt Israel’s sovereign right to make its own decisions about what is required to meet its security needs.”
The following day, Obama met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who, when speaking to the press afterward, observed that Obama “understood Israel's position that it has a right to defend himself.” These sentiments are at least as old as Obama’s aspirations for the presidency; here he is in 2007, still a Senator in Congress:
My view is that the United States' special relationship with Israel obligates us to be helpful to them in the search for credible partners with whom they can make peace, while also supporting Israel in defending itself against enemies sworn to its destruction
And then there’s the obligatory declaration – said in seemingly boundless variations – that the U.S. will use military force, if necessary, to ensure Iran cannot threaten Israel with nuclear weapons. Romney’s version went like this: “We should employ any and all measures to dissuade the Iranian regime from its nuclear course.” Obama has taken the same tact, of course, though more often than not preferring to use metaphorical tables:
What I've emphasized is that preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon isn't just in the interest of Israel, it is profoundly in the security interests of the United States, and that when I say we're not taking any option off the table, we mean it. We are going to continue to apply pressure until Iran takes a different course.
This brings me to the exception. While in Jerusalem, Romney did introduce a significant, albeit vague, policy distinction between himself and Obama. Here’s the New York Times:
While the Obama administration typically talks about stopping Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, Mr. Romney adopted the language of Israel’s leaders, who say Tehran must be prevented from even having the capability to develop one.
That’s right. While the Obama administration has reiterated time and again its red line of Iran possessing a nuclear weapon, Romney goes a step (read: leap) further, deeming even the capability to create a nuke grounds for war. This raises the question of what, exactly, Romney means by “capability.” Here’s the CIA’s definition of a break-out capability:
Knowledge, infrastructure, and materiel, which usually lie beneath the threshold of suspicion, but which can be rapidly adapted or reorganized to allow for weaponization processes to be undertaken. Such capabilities require pre-disposed resources and often employ dual-use technology, equipment, or knowledge.
Is this the standard Romney will adopt as well? In any case, I’m not so sure Romney even means what he says – at least I hope not. I’d chalk this up to presidential politics; Romney is in all likelihood simply attempting to peel off a not insignificant portion of Obama’s Jewish constituency come November 6th. Florida is awfully important, after all. Even so, war weary U.S. voters deserve further elucidation as to why a Romney administration intends to significantly lower the bar for waging war against Iran.By Nathan Patin, Aslan Media Columnist