With Super Tuesday in full swing, the Republican presidential candidates are once again distancing themselves from Barack Obama's approach to Iran's nuclear program, which the U.S. president outlined in an address to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on Sunday, March 4. Rick Santorum has accused Obama of "appeasement" and turning "his back on the people of Israel," while Mitt Romney has promised to confront the "thugs and tyrants" in Iran with "our resolve, backed by our power and our readiness to use it." But, as the New York Times noted on Tuesday, the muscular rhetoric obscures the many similarities between the policies espoused by Obama and his Republican rivals.
Conventional wisdom holds that Obama couldn't be more different from his predecessor when it comes to Iran. George W. Bush wouldn't negotiate with Iran until it suspended its uranium-enrichment process. Obama initially talked about dropping the precondition, though he later compromised on the issue. Bush marveled that "some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along." Obama vowed to extend a hand "if countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fist." Bush once observed that after decades of sanctions against Iran, "We're out of sanctions." Obama has staked his Iran strategy on his ability to build international consensus around tougher economic sanctions to put a "world of hurt" on Iranian leaders.
Obama has played up these differences. "When I took office, the efforts to apply pressure on Iran were in tatters," Obama informed AIPAC on March 4. "Iran had gone from zero centrifuges spinning to thousands, without facing broad pushback from the world. In the region, Iran was ascendant -- increasingly popular and extending its reach. In other words, the Iranian leadership was united and on the move, and the international community was divided about how to go forward."
But the chasm, in terms of rhetoric and strategy, may not be as wide as you think. For evidence, we invite you to play Foreign Policy's favorite new game -- Who said it: Bush or Obama?
1. "I have always said that all options are on table, but the first option for the United States is to solve this problem diplomatically. That is why we've been pursuing multilateral diplomacy."