Iran in the US Election Campaign

18 October 2012 | 11:43 Code : 1908108 Review General category
An essay by Dr. Seyyed Mohammad Kazem Sajjadpour, university professor
Iran in the US Election Campaign


With the US presidential Election Day nearing, the campaigns have intensified and excitement is growing day by day. Usually, American voters make their final decision based on the economic positions of candidates and their own economic situation and the relation between these two matters. Non-economic issues are less important and this economic priority is the consistent and stable element in the voting process of US citizens. But, in some cases, foreign policy issues also attract attention, particularly when the US is faced with an international crisis, and the candidates attempt to talk about their foreign policy power and convince the voters that they have better positions in safeguarding national interests of the US compared with their opponent. 

In the upcoming US election and in the present campaigns of the Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, and candidate of the Democrats, Barack Obama, foreign policy issues are not the most important issues, but they are some of the main ones. Although economic issues are more attractive in this election, foreign policy issues are also critical and both candidates try to show their superiority in foreign policy. Among the issues of foreign policy, the issue of Iran is, undoubtedly, the most important matter of dispute between the two candidates. In Romney's major speech about foreign policy which was held at the Virginia Military Institute in the first week of October, Iran's name was mentioned more than ten times. In the vice-presidential debate between Joseph Biden and Paul Ryan, held last Thursday, it was mentioned that Iran is the biggest challenge for US national security. 

How can the Iranian issue be evaluated in the present election? How can the issue of Iran be analyzed in this election? To answer these questions, one must first study the present characteristics of the US presidential election, then the characteristics of foreign policy issues in this election, and finally, the characteristics of the Iranian issue, in particular.

At the present time, the presidential election has formed around the issue of personality, the economic situation and the direction of US foreign policy. With regard to the issue of personality, the final discussion is about the comparison between Obama's personality and that of Romney. These two personalities are not only two individuals, but rather representatives of two main political and social movements. Obama is the symbol of colored, non-Anglo-Saxon immigrants, with different ancestors compared to the first European founders of the US. In other words, he is different in the issues of race, skin color, and class and social status from Romney, who is the reflection of Anglo-Saxon Christian white people. Each of these two personalities represent two major viewpoints in the US; Obama is the symbol of multiculturalism in the US and Romney the symbol of white uniformity in the US. It should be noted that the issue of race is still important and significant in the US. Race is related to foreign and international issues. Obama's ancestors were Africans, while Romney's were Europeans. Besides this difference, the formed nature of their personalities is reflected in their previous jobs and responsibilities. Romney is a businessman and wealthy, while Obama is a self-built individual who has climbed the ladder of progress from the lower class of the society and has reached the highest administrative post of the US. These two personalities represent the change in American society which itself is connected to the US’ economic and social situation. 

The economic situation is the determining factor in this election. It means that the US is passing through challenging times from an economic point of view and is faced with unemployment, especially with regard to young university graduates. The huge deficit and the debt crisis is another US economic challenge. The US debt is among the major issues which has different reflections in American society. Therefore, issues related to unemployment, taxes, health care, and fulfilling the needs of poor people are very significant in this election. Obama tries to represent the middle and lower class and introduce Romney as the symbol of the well-off higher class of society. These economic issues will ultimately influence people's votes, but the direction of foreign policy is also important in this election. It is interesting to see that there seem to be similarities in the foreign policy direction proposed by the two candidates. But, there are also some differences. Romney talks about a powerful US and the idea that he can reconstruct US power in his own special way, which will be to the interests of the rest of the social strata. But Obama follows another outlook in foreign policy which is based on cooperation. It remains to be seen how the issues of foreign policy can be more accurately explained. 

In the issue of foreign policy, the basic direction of the US and its international status is the major issue. In fact, two different Americas are represented in these presidential campaigns; Romney’s US which seeks its power through strengthening military forces and emphasizing old friends, particularly the Zionist regime in the Middle East and a kind of power exercise which, to some extent, is considered as the echo of the neo-conservatives. Obama’s US is a cooperative US which enforces its leadership through global participation and multilateral policies. Although using military tools is an option for Obama, he tries to introduce the opposing party as militarist and itself as having the strong and superior military. But military issues have special standing in this election. Romney criticizes Obama for weakening the US armed forces and proposes a higher military budget, stating that if the military budget had been high enough, many of these problems would not have been created. Also, with regard to supporting special allies of the US, Romney puts special emphasis on Israel. Meanwhile, the issue of Iran is proposed and a considerable part of the Iranian issue is related to the special relations between the US and Israel. But it must be noted that besides Iran, the issues of Russia, China, the struggle against anti-US activities, and the manner of presenting the US’ universal picture are major issues of foreign policy. But none of them is as significant and critical as the issue of Iran. The reason behind this sensitivity is the connection between the issue of Iran and military discussions, and also issues related to Washington-Tel Aviv relations.

With regard to the Iranian issue, it must be pointed out that there are common viewpoints between the two candidates. Both of them consider Iran a threat against the national security of the US. During the last years and decades, Iran has continuously been considered as a threat against US national security and there are no differences between the two candidates in this regard. Furthermore, none of them is concerned that their discussions about Iran will create trouble inside the US, that is to say, there is no lobby in the US in support of Iran, and thus, both candidates consider criticizing and opposing Iran as low-cost and beneficial in US domestic policy.

But at the same time, there are differences of opinion between the candidates with regard to the issue of Iran. As mentioned before, the root of these differences is the issue of the relation between US policies and Israeli policies. Romney is close to the Likud Party and the right faction of Israel, which is part of the global right wing. In this global division, to which people like Stephen Harper, Canada's Prime Minister, belong, the issue of Iran is one of the forming elements of the global right’s identity connected to Zionism. It means that the problems and issues related to domestic crisis and the challenges of the Zionist regime and its domestic and foreign issues are covered by proposing the threat of Iran and militarizing the security mind of the West with regard to Iran.

This trend, meaning harsh, hostile and military discourse regarding Iran, has been continuously used by Netanyahu during the past year and many political experts in the US and other parts of the world believe that one of his main aims in using this discourse is centered on US domestic policy and defeating Obama and preparing the grounds for a Romney victory. In other words, the issue of the bond between the right faction of the Zionist regime and the right faction of the US has been one of the main challenges for Obama in the area of domestic policy and their differences in this regard are not merely related to dealing with the issue of Iran, but are also linked to the use of these differences in US domestic policy. It should be borne in mind that in the last two decades, the Republican Party has astonishingly and in an unprecedented manner gotten closer to the right faction of Israel and religious discourses have not been ineffective. An example in this regard can be seen in the religious and extra-political bond between Israel and the US during the Bush era.

Another difference between the two candidates is the quality of Iran's nuclear program. There are two major points in this regard. One is the efficiency of sanctions. Have the sanctions imposed against Iran been able to reduce the threat against the US and Israel or has no change been created in this regard? The right faction attempts to prove that these sanctions were neither efficient nor sufficient, in order to be able to impose more sanctions and prepare the grounds for making the atmosphere more hostile against Iran. The second point is evaluating reactions with regard to the nuclear program. There is a technical and very exact discussion about the concept of red lines in this area. The right faction, meaning Romney and Netanyahu, consider "capability" as the red line. It means that the more Iran's general capability advances, the more dangerous it will be for the US and Israel. But the Obama administration reiterates that the red line means the necessity of changing US policies with regard to Iran's nuclear program, the militarization of the nuclear program and production of a nuclear bomb. This difference of opinion is one of the delicate differences which can be seen in campaign debates and discussions. The right faction is strongly sounding the drums of war to show the inefficiency of Obama's policies. The aim of proposing the issue of war against Iran is to attract more votes and represent a more powerful US. But considering the unwillingness of American society, at a general level, to engage in a new war, and the fact that the two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have already consumed enough of the Americans’ energy and patience, Obama attempts to introduce Romney as a war-monger. During recent weeks, while maintaining his harsh and hostile position against Iran, Romney has made efforts to create some balance in order to avoid being called a war-monger. But nonetheless, during the short time left until the election day, the issue of dealing with Iran is very important and, in fact, it can easily be said that the issues related to Iran are out of Iran's hands and depend on domestic discourses in the US and relations between the Zionist regime and US political parties. Nevertheless, Iran's name is continuously repeated.  

An essential question is what type of policy these two candidates will adopt after coming to power. The answer to this question is not clear. But, what is clear is that neither of them seems inclined to start a new war. Even if Romney wins, according to some American experts, he does not want to begin his term with a war. A crisis-ridden government beginning work with a war is not positive. For Obama, who believes that his policies on Iran have been efficient, a military solution is also not positive, although one should not put aside the idea of military activities.

The conclusion of this brief look at the future is that the issue of Iran and a military attack against Iran as an election commodity will lose its efficiency in the next few weeks. However, from a strategic point of view, one should be vigilant in this regard. In a nutshell, it seems that the current election in America is linked with economic issues and the clash between two societal schools of thought and the voters cast their votes mainly based on domestic issues, but foreign policy issues and the question of Iran are surprisingly eye-catching. The prominence of the issue of Iran can be mainly attributed to the quality of US domestic policy and the bond between internal factions in America and those of the Zionist regime. 

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