Two top foreign-policy advisors to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney laid out policies for dealing with Iran this week and neither matches what the former Massachusetts governor has said on the issue.
Former senior National Security Council aide Elliott Abrams, who has been rumored as a potential top official in a future Romney administration, wrote on the Weekly Standard's website Aug. 21 that now is the time for Congress to authorize the use of military force against Iran as a means of preventing Israel from striking Iran's nuclear facilities.
"Why would Israel, with so much less power than the United States, decide to take on a task at the far outer edge of its military capacities? Why not leave that task to the superpower, which would do a much better job? The answer is simple: Israelis do not believe the United States will perform the task-will ever use military force, even as a last resort, to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons," Abrams wrote.
Abrams said that Israel does not trust President Barack Obama's repeated assurances, including at the AIPAC conference in March, that he will not allow Iran to get the bomb and that he is prepared to use military force. Abrams quotes Gen. Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israeli military intelligence who said last week that many Israelis don't believe Obama.
"There is a certain feeling in Israel that perhaps the president's declaration at AIPAC is not sufficient, and that maybe much more binding and stronger steps need to be taken," Yadlin said.
Congress is unlikely to pass an authorization to use force in Iran before the election. There are only a handful of legislative days in September and before lawmakers left town for the August recess, the Senate wasn't even able to pass a highly touted bipartisan resolution stating the sense of the Senate that containment of a nuclear Iran is not acceptable.
On Wednesday, another senior Romney foreign-policy advisor, former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, laid out a different policy prescription for Iran in the Washington Times. He agrees with Abrams that Obama's assurances about preventing a nuclear Iran are not credible, but suggests that Israel must be allowed to strike on its own if necessary.
"The hard reality, therefore, is that Israel must make its own military decision, preferably one based on physics, not politics. Israel most likely still has time if it wishes to act independently, but there is no guarantee how long," he wrote.
One line in particular caught the attention of Obama campaign national security advisory team spokeswoman Marie Harf: "Even if Mitt Romney wins, there is no guarantee U.S. policy could change quickly enough to stop Iran." She tweeted: "John Bolton, off msg?"
Bolton's line seems to contradict the line Romney used in primary debates, when he said, "If we re-elect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon. If you elect Mitt Romney, Iran will not have a nuclear weapon."
Asked about the discrepancy by The Cable, the Romney campaign referred back to the candidate's speech in Jerusalem, in which he affirmed his opposition to the idea of containing a nuclear Iran and stressed that the threat of a nuclear Iran is urgent and is a top national security priority.
"It is sometimes said that those who are the most committed to stopping the Iranian regime from securing nuclear weapons are reckless and provocative and inviting war. The opposite is true. We are the true peacemakers. History teaches with force and clarity that when the world's most despotic regimes secure the world's most destructive weapons, peace often gives way to oppression, to violence, or to devastating war," Romney said.
"We must not delude ourselves into thinking that containment is an option. We must lead the effort to prevent Iran from building and possessing nuclear weapons capability. We should employ any and all measures to dissuade the Iranian regime from its nuclear course, and it is our fervent hope that diplomatic and economic measures will do so. In the final analysis, of course, no option should be excluded. We recognize Israel's right to defend itself, and that it is right for America to stand with you."
The Obama campaign told The Cable that Romney hasn't put out a policy plan for Iran that is substantively different from what the current administration is doing now.
"Mitt Romney continues to engage in reckless rhetoric on Iran, while failing to outline any policy ideas to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon beyond what President Obama has already done - including implementing crippling sanctions, increasing diplomatic pressure, and putting a credible military option on the table," said campaign spokesman Adam Fetcher. "Gov. Romney owes it to the American people to say whether he thinks there's still time for diplomacy to work or if he thinks it's time to take military action against Iran - but he's been silent."
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.