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Friday, September 07, 2012

The difference on Iran between the two parties' platforms

This week I posted a side-by-side comparison between the Democratic and Republican platforms' positions on the Middle East.

The most important difference between the two is not rhetoric about Jerusalem or the peace process. It is not even the very obvious difference between how they discuss the upheavals in the Arab world.

The critical difference between the two is a single word.

The Democrats say "The President is committed to using all instruments of national power to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons."

The Republicans say "Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons capability threatens America, Israel, and the world. … America must lead the effort to prevent Iran from building and possessing nuclear weapons capability.

There is a huge distinction between Iran acquiring nuclear weapons and it possessing nuclear weapons capability. As I have reported, a recent AP article says:
Iran could be shaping its nuclear ambitions after Japan, which has the full scope of nuclear technology - including the presumed ability to produce warhead-grade material - but has stopped short of actually producing a weapon. It creates, in effect, a de facto nuclear power with all the parts but just not pieced together....Following Japan's path would allow Iran to push their nuclear technology to the limit while being able to claim it has adhered to its international pledge not to develop a bomb.
Yesterday, evidence came out that the Obama administration's "red line" might very well be right at the last screw before a bomb is physically built. Jeffrey Goldberg has the text of a must-read radio interview with Mike Rogers who witnessed the meeting between Netanyahu and US Ambassador Shapiro that reportedly turned into a shouting match. Netanyahu was asking for the US to define what it considers "red lines" for Iran, and the US is refusing to do so - indicating that the "red line" really might be as late as the last screw. And Rogers, the Republican chair of the House Intelligence Committee, seems to share Netanyahu's frustration:

Rogers went on to describe what he understands to be the Israeli frustration, and, apparently, his frustration, with the impact of sanctions: "Here's the problem. ....I support the sanctions. But if you're going to have a hammer you have to have an anvil. You have to have at least a credible threat of a military option. So it's having an effect, yes, it's having an effect on the Iranian economy. It is not impacting their race on enrichment and other things, and that's very very clear." He went on, "I think the Israeli position is, 'Hey, listen, you've got to tell us -- I mean, if you want us to wait' -- and that's what this Administration's been saying, you've gotta wait, you've gotta wait, you've gotta wai -- got that -- 'but then you've gotta tell us when is the red line so we can make our own decisions about should we or shouldn't we stop this particular program."

And Rogers had harsh words for the Administration, which he says has made it very clear to the Israelis what they shouldn't do, but hasn't delivered a message to the Iranians with the same clarity: "There's a lot of pieces in play on this. But I think again, their frustration is that the Administration hasn't made it very clea -- they've made it very clear to Israel in a public way that they shouldn't do it, but haven't made it very clear to Iran in a public way that there will be tougher action, which could include -- and I argue peace through strength, so you just need to let them understand that that's an option so we can deter them from their program. And right now the Israelis don't' believe that the Administration is serious when they say that all options are on the table, and more importantly neither do the Iranians. That's why the program is progressing."
This single word, "capability," is not just a difference between platforms - it is a chasm.

The real problem is that all of the "capability" red lines might very well be crossed too soon for the differences between Republicans and Democrats to practically matter.