In interviews, Mr. Romney has spoken about tougher sanctions, but it's been difficult to consider the candidates' positions on Iran -- or much else -- with the childish talk about who is the bigger liar.
James Clapper, director of national intelligence, testified Tuesday before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Mr. Clapper said that while American sanctions are likely to have a greater impact on Iran's nuclear program, they are not expected to lead to the demise of Iran's leadership.
Mr. Clapper said, "We assess Iran is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons, in part by developing various nuclear capabilities that better position it to produce such weapons, should it choose to do so."
Given the apocalyptic statements from Iran's leadership, is anyone in doubt about Iran's intentions? Mr. Clapper said Iran is expanding its capability to enrich uranium and that the end product can be used for either civil or weapons purposes.
Mr. Clapper acknowledged: "Iran's technical advancement, particularly in uranium enrichment, strengthens our assessment that Iran has the scientific, technical and industrial capacity to eventually produce nuclear weapons, making the central issue its political will to do so."
The central issue for Israel and the United States is this: Can Iran be stopped by a pre-emptive attack, or must we wait until it launches -- or threatens to launch -- a nuclear missile at Israel, or explodes -- or threatens to explode -- "suitcase bombs" in U.S. cities?
In the English edition of Israel Hayom, the largest-circulation Hebrew daily in Israel, former Israeli diplomat Yoram Ettinger writes about the history of pre-emptive strikes that did not materialize and the consequences of waiting to be attacked before acting: http://www.israelhayom.com/site/newsletter_opinion.php?id=1298.
Mr. Ettinger believes the reluctance to engage in a pre-emptive strike on Iran's nuclear facilities "is harmful, ignores precedents, plays into Iran's hands and threatens Israel's existence" because it conveys "hesitancy, skepticism and fatalism, aiming to preclude pre-emption and assuming that Israel can co-exist with a nuclear-armed Iran," which of course it cannot, anymore that the United States could have co-existed with Cuba when the Soviet Union placed nuclear missiles there during the Kennedy administration.
The continuing problem for the United States is that every modern administration has falsely believed that what Israel and America do or don't do can deter the stated objectives of radical Arab and Muslim leaders.
The history and consequences of American and Israeli reluctance to engage in pre-emption has been chronicled by Mr. Ettinger. Here are two of several examples: Oct. 5, 1973: Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir rejected the option of a pre-emptive strike against mobilizing Egyptian and Syrian troops. Meir didn't want to appear as the aggressor and damage ties with the U.S., which was pressuring Israel to do nothing, probably out of fear the incendiary situation would be "inflamed." Following the resultant Yom Kippur War, many came to view the cost of waiting as greater than it might have been had Israel attacked first.
In June 1981, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin considered a pre-emptive strike against Iraq's nuclear reactor. Most of the intelligence and military leadership in Israel opposed action. Begin concluded, correctly, the cost of restraint would be greater than the cost of action. The surprise Israeli air strike took out the reactor under construction near Baghdad. The United Nations Security Council denounced the attack and the Reagan administration issued the pro forma denunciations of Israel's actions, though there were reports the president tacitly approved. The results were favorable to Israel and the U.S., delaying further action against Saddam Hussein until Desert Storm in 1991 and his ultimate overthrow in 2003.
Now Israel and the U.S. are faced with another choice: a pre-emptive strike that would set back or destroy Iran's nuclear capabilities, or wait and see what might happen. Does anyone -- other than Ron Paul -- deny the disaster that might occur if Iran had a nuclear device and the capability to deliver it against targets in Israel and America?
As the joke goes, "denial is not just a river in Egypt."
Cal Thomas is a syndicated columnist. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.