Monday, October 29, 2012

Iran Issue, a US Election Stratagem

Iran Review
Afsaneh Ahadi
Expert on Strategic and US Affairs

Iran’s nuclear issue has been a focus of attention for both the Republican and Democrat candidates during 2012 election hustings. In fact, Iran was among issues to which both rival candidates have paid special attention since the beginning of election campaigns. As election campaigns close to their end, the two rivals are paying even higher attention to Iran and how to deal with it. The focus on Iran has been so intense that other foreign policy issues have been discussed by presidential hopefuls in the light of Iran issue and the candidates use it to barrage each other’s positions. The Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, and his Democrat rival who is also the incumbent US president, Barack Obama, have been trying throughout their election debates and also in their other public addresses to depict Iran as a major threat to national security of the United States.

Although a similar trend has been rife in previous US presidential elections, during the current campaigns, both candidates are trying to draw more public attention to Iran issue, by putting too much emphasis on and giving urgency to Iran issue. In fact, the only way to get the American voters believe that there is an issue in the country’s foreign policy which is more pressing than economic issues is to aggrandize the threat posed by that issue to the United States national security. This is being done while the American people’s concern about gravity of their country’s economic situation is growing and various opinion polls have shown that economic programs offered by both candidates have been treated coldly by the American people. A comparison between the impressions made on the American people by either candidate’s economic program clearly proves that none of them have been considered attractive by the general public. In a recent poll conducted by the Gallup Institute, 48 percent voted for Obama while 47 percent took sides with Romney’s economic program.

At any rate, the main issue which is of utmost urgency to both rival candidates is to attract the so-called ‘swing’ votes which are cast by people in a number of states whose final vote cannot be forecasted up to the eleventh hour. Traditionally, a certain part of the US population votes for Democrat candidates, while another part supports the Republicans and their candidates. However, there is also a part of the population with no special allegiance for either party in some US states, which are known as ‘swing states.’ Such undetermined votes account for about 23 percent of all votes during this year’s presidential polls, which is quite considerable. As a result, both candidates are doing their best to win the votes of this part of the population.

Therefore, stressing on the critical nature of an issue and reiterating the necessity of taking a serious stance on it will be a good ploy in order to put a cap on the weak performance of a candidate in other fields. Iran is now in the center of the crisis theme chosen for this year’s presidential elections in the United States. This is quite similar to what happened during the US presidential polls in 1980. At that time, due to hostage taking crisis related to the American diplomats in Tehran, the American people paid special attention to political stances of both candidates.

Although the Americans saw Iran threat more tangible then, the ongoing negative propaganda against the Islamic Republic has once more brought the alleged Iran threat to the fore. As a result, the republican candidate is accusing Obama of having adopted futile and ineffective policies in order to stop Iran’s nuclear activities and is calling for a more serious treatment of Iran which may even include a military option. Polls conducted so far show that despite too much emphasis, which has been put on the serious nature of Iran’s nuclear energy program, the American people are not in favor of a military option against Iran and the beginning of a new war. This is truer taking into account that the American people are currently grappling with a major economic crisis and they believe that the main cause of the crisis is their country’s engagement in two major wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Therefore, the Republican candidate is trying to show that sanctions have not been of enough effect against Iran and have failed to produce a major impact on the Islamic Republic. Therefore, he has called for further escalation of sanctions against Iran. Romney has already questioned Obama’s position of considering the capability to build nuclear weapons as the red line for Iran’s nuclear energy program, and believes that any form of nuclear capability in Iran will pose a serious threat to security of both Israel and the United States.

Many experts believe that any sudden development in relation to Iran’s nuclear issue can have a great impact on the situation of the US presidential candidates and even a development with an ephemeral effect can be consequential. Perhaps this is why a few days before the last election debate between Obama and Romney, the New York Times daily reported that the United States and Iran have reached an agreement to launch direct talks and the negotiations are to be started following the US presidential election. Although the report was rejected by both the Iranian and American officials, in short term, it can leave its mark on the US presidential contest in favor of Obama and can improve his standing compared to his Republican rival. The Republican candidate, on the other side, has noted that any kind of negotiations with Iran will be ineffective and has slammed Obama for showing unacceptable weakness in the face of Iran. Critics believe that despite international sanctions against the Islamic Republic, Iran’s nuclear program in ceaselessly progressing. On the other hand, experience has shown that even in the case of direct talks between the two sides, they are very probable not to achieve any clear-cut result just in the same way that direct talks between the United States and North Korea over the latter country’s nuclear program failed to produce a tangible result.

Therefore, despite all efforts made by both Democrats and Republicans to highlight a foreign policy issue, polls show that most voters do not agree with either candidate in believing that the United States is facing an urgent foreign threat. One of such polls conducted by the Pew Research Center showed that only 7 percent of the American people actually believe that the United States is facing a serious threat in the field of foreign policy. This stands in stark contrast to a previous poll, which was conducted in 2008, and which showed that 25 percent of people felt such a threat and was also very different from a 2004 poll which put that figure at 41 percent. Perhaps, worsening situation of the United States beyond its borders and growing unemployment inside the country are major reasons, which have taken the attention of the American people further away from foreign policy issues. Moreover, another poll conducted by the same institute quite recently, ranked issues which were considered important by the American people. The results clearly showed that out of 18 important issues, which are of essence in this year’s presidential election, the Iran issue ranked 12. In fact, 86 percent of respondents believed that economic issues were the most important concern. There was another noteworthy point on the same poll. Asked which candidate would be able to manage Iran’s nuclear issue in a better way, 40 percent named Obama while 54 percent preferred Romney. This shows that the stern and categorical position taken by Romney on Iran’s nuclear issue has appealed more to the American people, which is most probably a result of intense negative propaganda against the Islamic Republic.

Another important issue about the focus on Iran issue during the US election campaigns is the way Iran may influence the results of the election. In the past and during election contest between the former US president, Jimmy Carter, and his Republican rival, Ronald Reagan, the issue of Iran was of import to the American voters due to continuation of hostage taking crisis in Iran. If the American hostages had been released before the election, it would have been a major point for Carter administration and could have even led to his victory. However, release of the hostages after the election, was construed by some analysts as a sign of Iran’s willingness to see Carter lose the election. During this year’s election, as well, any position or action taken by Iran can have a major influence on the US presidential election. In fact, adoption of a calculated policy or taking an appropriate measure during this election will have a relative impact on its result. This is especially true because positions taken on Iran by the Republican candidate are much sharper than his Democrat contestant, and he is very probable to adopt tough anti-Iranian policies if he wins the election. However, silence has been the most notable reaction shown by Iranian authorities to developments in US presidential election and even to positions taken on Iran by either presidential candidate. On the other hand, under current political conditions there is no obstacle to taking anti-Iranian positions by presidential candidates. Other countries have influential lobbies or interest groups there, which can react to challenges posed to their countries, and this can make taking any position against their countries quite costly. On the contrary, efforts made in the United States to aggrandize Iran’s nuclear energy program have not received a categorical answer. This hurtful silence has let both candidates loose in order to launch unbridled attacks against Iran and easily talk about further escalation of sanctions and even the possibility of a military attack against the Islamic Republic.

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