Will Iran cost Obama the presidency?

President Obama addresses the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's annual conference in Washington on Sunday.

Story highlights

  • LZ Granderson: President Obama's decisions on Iran are complicated by politics
  • He says Obama will be criticized by GOP candidates on foreign policy no matter what
  • He says winning an election in today's sound-bite culture prompts candidates to deceive
  • Granderson: What works politically might not be the right call in tense Iran standoff

I'm sure if President Barack Obama were stuck between a rock and a hard place, that would be preferable to the spot he currently finds himself in.

Consider this: Most nations agree Iran cannot be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon. However, no one -- including the United States -- can afford the price of another war. And in the middle of this delicate situation, Obama's rivals are thrashing about on TV, employing the first rule of politics: Characterize everything the incumbent says and does as wrong.

I'm not sure if Mahmoud Ahmadinejad intended to kidnap the 2012 general election with his little nuclear weapons game, but that is exactly what appears to have happened.

Obama, the man, is being tested because Obama, the politician, must find a way to navigate the world through this current Middle East quagmire without being sidetracked by what may or may not be the best narrative for his re-election bid. Not that his integrity or foreign policy have anything to do with what his opponents say about him.

LZ Granderson

On Sunday, the president stood in front of the crowd at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and reiterated that while he prefers to handle the Iranian nuclear dilemma with diplomacy, he will not hesitate to use military force to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

"There should not be a shred of doubt by now, when the chips are down, I have Israel's back," Obama said to applause.

Obama, Netanyahu look for unity on Iran

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    Obama, Netanyahu look for unity on Iran

Obama, Netanyahu look for unity on Iran 00:10
Netanyahu: Iran can't get nukes

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    Netanyahu: Iran can't get nukes

Netanyahu: Iran can't get nukes 02:27
DNC chair: Iran military option on table

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    DNC chair: Iran military option on table

DNC chair: Iran military option on table 02:22

A short time later in Georgia, Mitt Romney stood in front of a large crowd and essentially lied.

"(Obama) failed to communicate that military options are on the table and in fact in our hand, and that it's unacceptable to America for Iran to have a nuclear weapon," he told supporters.

This is how Obama will spend the rest of 2012, watching his rivals get in front of cameras and crowds misrepresenting his record and second-guessing every foreign policy decision he's ever made because they have the luxury of talking without actually having to make a decision.

Politically speaking, it's a nice place to be in -- and one Obama should recognize, because he was there five years ago. As a junior senator, Obama stood in the halls of the Capitol denouncing President George W. Bush's plan for a surge in Iraq only to have his campaign team purge that criticism from his website a few months later after the surge was considered a success.

No harm. No foul.

Fast forward a handful of years and Obama the perpetrator has become Obama the victim.

Last spring, Republicans criticized the president for not using military force to aid the rebels in Libya, only to criticize the president for using military force to aid the rebels in the summer. And now that longtime U.S. adversary Moammar Gadhafi has been killed, in large part due to Obama's decisions, notice his rivals don't mention Libya at all anymore.

They've moved on to Syria and Iran.

No harm. No foul.

Only this time around, the stakes are significantly higher.

Back in 2007 Obama was pushing to end two wars. Today, the GOP candidates, with the exception of Ron Paul, are pushing for a pre-emptive one.

If that sounds familiar, it should.

It's the Bush Doctrine all over again, the one that helped take us away from a projected $2.3 trillion surplus to a very real $15 trillion debt.

Author George Santayana famously said, "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

Somehow I doubt we will hear that line of reasoning brought up by Romney, Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum when they talk about what the United States should do about Israel and Iran.

We also won't hear how Iran is not in violation of international law or that U.S. presidents don't control gas prices.

All we'll hear is that this president is weak and that we need to bomb the hell out of Iran.

And maybe that's true, I don't know.

I do know it is hard for voters to separate the wheat from the chaff, because before Obama even voices his position on an issue, his opponents are prepared with a rebuttal. That's no way to hold a healthy national discussion on something that's inconsequential, let alone foreign policy.

But in our sound-bite driven culture, it is an effective way to win an election. And at the end of the day, that's why candidates run for office—to win. They are free to pontificate without needing to be right, criticize without having all the facts and loudly call for war without ever having to wage one.

No harm. No foul.

As for Obama, I'm sure he hears the rhetoric and juxtaposes that to the situation in the Middle East and well, harm and foul is all he sees.

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