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It’s the consensus among the pundits: foreign policy doesn’t matter in this presidential election. They point to the ways Republican candidate Mitt Romney has more or less parroted President Barack Obama on just about everything other than military spending and tough talk about another “American century.”
The consensus is wrong. There is an issue that matters: Iran.
Don’t be fooled. It’s not just campaign season braggadocio when Romney claims that he would be far tougher on Iran than the president by threatening “a credible military option.” He certainly is trying to appear tougher and stronger than Obama—he of the drone wars, the “kill list,” and Bin Laden’s offing—but it’s no hollow threat.
The Republican nominee has surrounded himself with advisors who are committed to military action and regime change against Iran, the same people who brought us the Global War on Terror and the Iraq War. Along with their colleagues in hawkish think tanks, they have spent years priming the public to believe that Iran has an ongoing nuclear weapons program, making ludicrous claims about “crazy” mullahs nuking Israel and the United States, pooh-poohing diplomacy—and getting ever shriller each time credible officials and analysts disagree.
Unlike with Iraq in 2002 and 2003, they have it easier today. Then, they and their mentors had to go on a sales roadshow, painting pictures of phantom WMDs to build up support for an invasion. Today, a large majority of Americans already believe that Iran is building nuclear weapons.
President Obama has helped push that snowball up the hill with sanctions to undermine the regime, covert and cyber warfare, and a huge naval presence in the Persian Gulf. Iran has ratcheted up tensions via posturing military maneuvers, while we have held joint U.S.-Israeli exercises and "the largest-ever multinational minesweeping exercise" there. Our navies are facing off in a dangerous dance.