Romney: Yes, He Can

Mitt Romney as a candidate cannot walk the walk on Iran, but at least he talks the talk and says the right things.

While major differences exist between myself and Atlantic columnist Jeffrey Goldberg - I live in Judea and he opposes settlements; he is an Obamaphile while I am an Obamaskeptic - we both agree on the need to deny Iran the bomb. For that reason Goldberg's July 26 column for Bloomberg, "In Israel-Iran Conflict, Don't Rely on Romney," merits consideration and a serious response.

Goldberg's main argument is, as he puts it, that "the conservatives are better positioned to make peace; liberals are generally better positioned to launch preventive strikes at the nuclear programs of rogue nations." This is essentially a reprise of the "It took Nixon to establish relations with the People's Republic of China" argument, or its Israeli version, "Only the Likud can make peace and only Labor can make war." This reverse logic may be elegant, but in this case it is wrong.

First, sometimes direct logic works best: There are politicians who actually intend to implement what they have declared they will do. Ronald Reagan remains an icon because he made no bones about defeating the "evil empire," and proceeded to do just that. Yes, demonstrators in Europe and the United States cut him no slack, but he persevered, despite them.

Barack Obama pushed through Obamacare (aka the Affordable Care Act ) in the teeth of conservative opposition because he felt a personal commitment and sensed a popular mandate to do so. Politicians determined to pursue a course may not be popular or sympathetic, as in the case of Vladimir Putin, but once they establish credibility, friends and foes must factor this into account.

A liberal leader like Obama cannot suffice with a reputation or even a solid record of domestic achievement to carry his base with him on a matter like Iran. A war that may involve sacrifice and great financial cost requires advance preparation of public opinion.

Unfortunately we have not witnessed any attempt by the Obama administration to prepare the public for the possibility that a U.S. strike in Iran might be needed. Instead, we hear that crippling sanctions will do the job and that the window of diplomacy, while not indefinite, is still open, coupled with revelations of legerdemain such as Stuxnet.

America's entry into World War II was anticipated by a steady drumbeat of preparation by the Roosevelt administration. German activities in Latin America as a threat to the U.S. were highlighted, major speeches targeting Germany were delivered; domestic pro-German sympathizers were outed and labeled German enemy agents.

Contrast this with the record of the Obama administration. It had numerous opportunities to alert the public to the threat posed by Iran but curiously elected not to use them: the Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in a Washington eatery last fall that would have blown away a few members of Congress in the process; Iranian assistance to insurgents fighting American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan; recent talks between Iran and the Taliban in Afghanistan; and the terror axis in Latin America between the Islamic Republic and the Bolivarian Republic of Hugo Chavez - all merited full-blown treatment rather than a footnote.

Obama administration spokespersons have not pushed back against arguments, such as that made by Kenneth Waltz in the current issue of Foreign Affairs, that a nuclear Iran would not only be containable but would even be a boon to global stability. The administration refers to the threat posed by Iran only when Israel appears uppity. Otherwise, the issue is submerged and subordinated to economic and electoral considerations.

Content to lead from behind, Obama has allowed the Red Baroness, Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign policy factotum, to be the point player. Ashton has asked Iran to come up with some confidence-building gestures in a few weeks' time. While she waits, the centrifuges spin, the uranium is enriched and Iran will as usual respond with confidence tricks rather than confidence measures.

Leaders who strayed from the intuitive position of their base have not always been able to carry their supporters with them for the long haul: They either were cut off from that base or eventually succumbed to its gravity. Ramsay McDonald, who left the British Labor Party in 1931 to preside over a national unity government to implement austerity, or Lyndon Johnson, who escalated in Vietnam after promising the opposite in his 1964 election campaign against Barry Goldwater, serve as examples of the first category.

Obama can be seen as representative of the latter category. In 2008 he portrayed the war in Afghanistan as the "right" war, as opposed to the wrong war in Iraq, and he defended the surge in Afghanistan so effectively that neoconservative William Kristol reacted with superlatives. However, the enthusiasm was short-lived, as the anti-war base brought Obama back to earth. A cutoff date for troop deployment in Afghanistan was set, in disregard of professional advice, and in the current campaign, Afghanistan has become the great unmentionable.

Mitt Romney as a candidate cannot walk the walk on Iran, but at least he talks the talk and says the right things. As in 1980 (during the U.S. Embassy hostage crisis in Iran ), a Romney victory over Obama - like Reagan's over Jimmy Carter - may convince the Iranians that the U.S. administration means business.

Dr. Amiel Ungar writes a monthly column in Haaretz English Edition.