The final presidential debate, on foreign policy, is scheduled for Monday, October 22. Moderator Bob Schieffer announced that the topics will be: “America’s role in the world,” “Our Longest War—Afghanistan and Pakistan,” “Red Lines—Israel and Iran,” “The Changing Middle East and the New Face of Terrorism,” and “The Rise of China and Tomorrow’s World.” Heritage’s foreign policy experts have written a series of tipsheets for prepping on each of these issues. You can watch the live stream of the debate with us on Monday here.
The Issue: “Red Lines—Israel and Iran”
The Positions: President Obama and Governor Mitt Romney are likely to clash on Iran policy, with President Obama likely to tout sanctions as a crowning achievement of his Administration’s foreign policy while glossing over the fact that sanctions have not slowed Iran’s accelerating uranium enrichment efforts.
Romney noted in the first debate that the Obama Administration has claimed credit for sanctions on Iran’s central bank passed by a huge bipartisan majority in Congress over the Administration’s objections. He is likely to do so again.
The Reality: The inconvenient truth is that sanctions alone are no more likely to stop Iran’s steady march to a nuclear weapon than they are to stop North Korea’s. Iran’s leaders appear willing to pay the economic price to attain a nuclear weapon. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who sees an Iranian nuclear capability as an existential threat, recognizes this reality and called for stronger international action in his U.N. speech last month.
What is needed in addition to sanctions is the credible threat of the use of military force, something that the Obama Administration is not likely to provide. Greater U.S.–Israeli cooperation on missile defense could also help boost deterrence against Iran. Israel’s Iron Dome system has a good track record in defending against short-range missiles and rockets launched by Iran’s surrogates, Hezbollah and Hamas. Expanded cooperation on other missile defense systems could also enhance Israeli defenses against Iran’s medium-range ballistic missiles.
But Iran’s threat is likely to persist as long as the current Islamist dictatorship retains power. For that reason, the United States should boost its support for Iranian opposition groups and encourage regime change within Iran.