Despot Teapots

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And now for something to cleanse the palette…




A cartoon by the Iranian artist Touka Neyestani shows Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in an ‘I love New York’ T-shirt. Photograph: Touka Neyestani/International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran

The Christian Science Monitor –

Obama vs. Romney 101: 3 ways they differ on Iran

From Day 1 of his presidency, Barack Obama said he was going to try a different approach to Iran to address its nuclear ambitions and support for regional extremist groups: “We will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist,” he said in his Inaugural Address. Three years later, a sputtering international diplomatic effort to curtail Tehran’s nuclear program is about all that remains of Obama’s “extended hand.”

Republican challenger Mitt Romney says a weak Iran policy has afforded the regime in Tehran 3-1/2 years to progress toward “nuclear weapons capability” and to pursue its radical regional designs. In his specifics, however, Romney often doesn’t sound all that different from Obama.

Here are three areas where the candidates differ in their approach to Iran: Iran and the bomb, support for terrorism and the Assad regime in Syria, and dialogue versus regime change.

By Howard LaFranchi, Staff writer
posted September 3, 2012 at 9:33 am EDT

1.Iran and the bomb: US military options

Both Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney say a nuclear Iran is “unacceptable,” and both hold out the prospect of military strikes to stop Iran as a last resort. But they use different terminology to describe the threshold that would presumably trigger preemptive US military action.

Obama says he would not accept Iran possessing a nuclear weapon, while Romney says he would not accept Iran reaching “nuclear weapons capability” – a lower threshold that suggests a fuzzier point at which military action against Iran would be undertaken.

To halt Iran’s nuclear march, Romney says he would first impose “crippling” sanctions – the same word Obama administration officials use to describe the sanctions they have already put in place. Romney also says he would order aircraft carriers to maintain a regular presence in both the Persian Gulf and the eastern Mediterranean as a means of convincing Iran that the US is serious about a military option if it fails to halt its nuclear program.  

Both with and without the United Nations, Obama has imposed on Iran some of the severest economic sanctions ever leveled against a country.  

The Obama administration also launched covert operations against Iran’s nuclear facilities, part of a covert war, presumably in cooperation with Israel, that have included cyberworms attacking uranium enrichment operations, explosions at nuclear facilities, and assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists – though it is not clear that the US is involved in all aspects of this war.

Meanwhile, Obama and administration officials have focused on reassuring Israel that there is still time to see if sanctions and diplomacy can work before military action is necessary. Romney says he would respect Israel’s right to take preemptive action against Iran nuclear sites if it decides to launch air strikes.

2.Iran, terrorism, and support for Assad

Iran is making it clear that it sees Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s survival as crucial to its regional designs – and that is adding a new dimension to Iran’s place in the presidential campaign. Romney says a nuclear Iran would constitute “the greatest threat to the world” in part because it would embolden Tehran to pursue its regional aims. Obama recently seemed to shut the door tighter on dialogue with Iran when the US rejected a proposal to include Iran in international talks on Syria. The Obama administration says Iran’s participation in Syria diplomacy is a “red line” because of Tehran’s support for pro-Assad militias and “terrorists” in the region.

Romney has been critical of Obama for not leading against Assad. In May, he called for the US to “arm the opposition so they can defend themselves” – a move the White House said would lead to more “chaos and carnage.” Since then, there have been unconfirmed reports that Obama signed a secret order earlier this year that broadly permits the CIA and other US agencies to provide support that could help the rebels oust Assad. This support stops short of supplying weapons, Reuters reported on Aug. 1. The State Department, also on Aug. 1, announced  that the US is providing $25 million for “non-lethal” assistance to the Syrian rebels.

Romney has not endorsed the idea of a no-fly zone inside Syria, along the lines proposed by Sens. John McCain (R) of Arizona, Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina, and Joseph Lieberman (I) of Connecticut. The Obama administration only goes so far as to say it is considering and studying the idea.

3.Dialogue or regime change?

Little is left of Obama’s effort at dialogue with the Iran, but that is not stopping Romney from citing Obama’s “extended hand” as a misguided show of weakness with America’s adversary. The former Massachusetts governor says Obama was so focused on “outreach” to the Iranian government that he refrained from supporting Iran’s Green Movement in 2009 – “a disgraceful abdication of American moral authority,” he says.

Obama has not spoken about “regime change” in Iran, in part because the term is so closely associated with the George W. Bush presidency, but also because any hint of American support for the Iranian regime’s internal foes risked dooming the international nuclear talks with the Iranians.

Romney shows no such concerns about Iranian sensitivities: He says his administration would work with Iranian civil society and dissident groups “to encourage regime change” in Tehran. In addition, he would seek an international indictment of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for “incitement to genocide” over his past calls for Israel’s annihilation.

This Feb. 15, 2012, file photo, released by the Iranian President’s Office, claims to show Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (second left) being escorted by technicians during a tour of a research reactor center in northern Tehran.
(Iranian President’s Office/AP/File)