But he had to soften a comment one of his advisors made, that the former Massachusetts governor would support a unilateral strike by Israel on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Romney modified that comment in a speech, saying, “No option should be excluded.”
That was probably a wise move. As we have said before in this space, a strike on Iran’s nuclear sites is fraught with risk, could lead to a protracted war — which could entangle the United States — cost thousands of lives and spread our military dangerously thin around the globe.
Conversely, a strike on Iran, however risky, may ultimately be the right thing to do in order to prevent a nuclear power and protect Israel from the worst kind of attack — and much of Europe, for that matter. Even if Iran didn’t use nuclear weapons, it could threaten to use them in order to assert its political will in the Middle East — something that is simply unacceptable.
Between those two extremes is a very large gray area in which the United States, Israel and their allies can maneuver, hint, threat and — behind closed doors at least — negotiate to avoid the world going over a cliff.
That’s why Romney’s advisor badly misspoke and why Romney had to backtrack in his speech with a healthy dose of ambiguity.
Make no mistake, in the West’s dealings with Iran and its nuclear program, ambiguity is our best weapon.
On one hand we have the president, making the case for sanctions as the best way to reign in Iran. On the other, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pronouncing the sanctions a failure and clamoring (or appearing to clamor) for unilateral action.
Finally, you have Romney playing his cards close to the vest in this case.
If you’re Iran and you are reading all these different messages, you could be left wondering what ultimately will happen.
That type of uncertainty may be enough to force the regime’s hand and negotiate its nuclear program out of existence.
Or … not.
In any case, ambiguity is the best chance the West has at the moment short of an all out strike on Iran to neutralize the threat. A thoughtful response to the Iranian nuclear program isn’t as satisfying on a visceral level as sabre rattling. Still, the situation does call for a thoughtful response — for the sake of all those men and women who would do the fighting if there were a war.