Mitt Romney came very close Wednesday night to saying he was ready to go to war with Iran--right now-- if he were president.
Hammering away, as usual, at Barack Obama's supposed weakness on national security at the 20th GOP debate in Arizona, Romney accused the administration of failing to impose "crippling sanctions" on Iran and said that, for him, military action wouldn't be merely "an option." Obama, Romney said, has "made it clear through his administration and almost every communication we've had so far that he does not want Israel to take action, he opposes military action. He should have instead communicated to Iran that we are prepared, that we are considering military options. They're not just on the table. They are in our hand."
The truth about the Obama administration's stance on Iran is much more complicated than Romney laid out. After spending a year offering an "outstretched hand" to Tehran, leading him to fudge his support for the Green movement there--a policy that critics called naive--Obama has delivered up ever-tougher sanctions. He has also cooperated with Israel on what appears to be a covert war against Iran's nuclear program. As one former intelligence official said to me recently: "Everything that Mitt Romney said we should be doing--tough sanctions, covert action and pressuring the international community -- are all of the things we are actually doing."
There is also an argument to be made that the repercussions of a U.S. or Israeli strike might not be as terrible as some critics of military action say. Iran's government is mired in chaos and infighting, its military is weak and disorganized, and its economy is crippled. Iran's main proxies, Hezbollah and Hamas, are not eager to attack Israel, and the United States is less vulnerable in Iraq now that its military has withdrawn. Tehran's lone ally in the region, Syria's Bashar al-Assad, is fighting a civil war.
Still, the Obama administration has deployed various officials, including Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey, to attempt to slow down what may be Israeli plans to attack Iranian sites this year. Even if the U.S. were to attack, on its own or in cooperation with the Israelis, there is little guarantee of a success. And the danger of a failed attack on Iran is that Tehran rushes ever faster to build a nuclear bomb, while the international coalition that has erected sanctions against Iran disintegrates.