The Democratic debate on April 16 marked the first time Iran has been discussed in a presidential debate since October of last year. The event demonstrated that US-Iran relations are no longer an issue that can be swept under the rug. The candidates’ commentary shed light on an issue that remains on the backburner despite its increasing importance. When asked about her strategy for security in the Middle East, Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) responded, “I think that we should be looking to create an umbrella of deterrence that goes much further than just Israel.”
Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) distinguished his Iran policy from his rival’s by highlighting his willingness to “directly engage” Iran while specifically refuting the idea of hosting President Ahmadinejad at the White House and prefers low level engagement. He said, “I would consider an attack unacceptable, and the United States would take appropriate action.” While the way in which these comments will translate into a foreign policy remains unclear, it is obvious that all three candidates advocate different approaches. Clinton was more direct, explaining that “We will let the Iranians know, that, yes, an attack on Israel would trigger massive retaliation, but so would an attack on those countries that are willing to go under the security umbrella and forswear their own nuclear ambitions.”
The Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain (R-AZ) takes a more aggressive approach. Unlike the Democratic candidates, he does not believe the approval of Congress is needed in order to take military action against Iran and is unwilling to engage in direct talks with Iran without pre-conditions.
He also seems to be a bit confused about the most important actors in the region and the roles they are playing. Last month, during a trip to Jordan where he commented on Iranian influence in Iraq, he mistakenly accused Iran of training members of Al-Qaeda to fight in Iraq. Asked about that statement, Senator McCain said: “Well, it’s common knowledge and has been reported in the media that Al Qaeda is going back into Iran and receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran. That’s well known. And it’s unfortunate.” It was only after Senator Lieberman (D-CT) whispered a correction that he revoked his statement.
In any event, all three candidates remain willing to consider pre-emptive military action as a last resort should sanctions and diplomacy fail. As responsible citizens, it is our duty to contact our representatives in congress and call for a peaceful resolution to what could become, in the absence of an alternative policy approach, a disastrous military engagement like the one already happening in Iran’s neighbor to the west.