President Barack Obama’s re-election victory represents an important vindication of his approach to Iran and its potential nuclear ambitions – and, for the world, a new face of American policy in the Middle East that will relegate the aggressive policies of George W. Bush into the distant past.
For all of his well-worn criticisms of Obama’s Iran policy as insufficiently bellicose and too reliant on diplomacy rather than military threats to bring Iran into line, Governor Mitt Romney never really offered much of an alternative – beyond his insistence that he could create a better outcome by speaking in a louder voice, and the clear implication that he would be more willing to use force against Iran’s nuclear facilities.
This sense was underscored by the fact that Mr. Romney’s campaign relied heavily on a number of neo-conservative foreign policy hands associated with the disastrous Iraq war, who continue to advocate a more aggressive posture on all national security matters, particularly Iran.
While the economy was clearly the most pressing issue on voters’ minds, the President’s critics worked diligently to make the election a referendum on his Iran policy. They lost.
The election confirmed what polls have clearly shown , that while Americans are deeply concerned about the prospect of an Iranian nuclear weapon, they also view addressing the problem through vigorous diplomatic engagement and sanctions as the most appropriate exercise of American power and leadership.
President Obama now has the political space to step up his administration’s efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear standoff, one that prevents both an Iranian nuke and avoids another regional conflagration.
Faced with an unprecedented effort by right-wing donors such as casino magnate Sheldon Adelson (who ploughed some $70-million of his own fortune into the effort to unseat Mr. Obama) and hard-line pro-Israel groups such as the Republican Jewish Committee and the Emergency Committee for Israel, who ran countless ads presenting Mr. Obama and other Democrats as soft on Iran and unfriendly to Israel, voters nevertheless stated clearly that they preferred Mr. Obama more than his rival. In a sweeping rejection, the candidates favoured by these groups went down in almost complete defeat.
But perhaps even more significant in the long term than the space President Obama has earned for his Iran engagement policy is the fact that Democrats have now erased the decades-long Republican advantage on national security.
When Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008, his foreign policy was based in large part on his opposition to the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. Many of the war’s advocates tried to play down this aspect of his campaign, suggesting that Americans were simply interested in turning the page on the George W. Bush years. But President Obama’s re-election victory Tuesday cements the reality that Americans have embraced his view that the U.S. military is not a tool of global transformation.
Indeed, based on last night’s election results, one of the few benefits of the Iraq war appears to be that Americans no longer trust the people who dreamed it up.
Matthew Duss is National Security Policy Analyst at the Center for American Progress Action Fund in Washington.