Is war with Iran more likely under Obama than Romney?

War with Iran over that nation’s nuclear weapons program is more likely and will happen sooner if President Barack Obama is re-elected as opposed to Governor Mitt Romney winning the presidency.

The president is more likely than Romney to use military force because nuclear nonproliferation is Obama’s signature issue and frankly Iran is soiling his plans.  By comparison, Romney would have his hands full with his signature issue, the economy and would avoid war because of the economic impact.

Both men promise they will do what is necessary to ensure Iran doesn’t obtain a nuclear weapon.  But for Obama this issue is personal and U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) agrees.

Senator Schumer told CNN Obama is “far more likely” to launch a military attack on Iran than Romney.  Schumer argues Obama is “Resolute about not having a nuclear Iran.”

Nuclear nonproliferation became an Obama signature issue when he was in the U.S. Senate and explains why he tried a different approach than President George W. Bush vis-à-vis the 2003 Iraq invasion.  But after almost four years of failing diplomacy and sanctions Obama hit a brick wall; nothing seems to deter Tehran from its destabilizing nuclear course.

Last week frustration was evident in Obama’s voice as he addressed the Iranian challenge at the United Nations.  He accused Iran of being tethered to a “violent and unaccountable ideology.”  He said “there is still time and space” to “resolve this issue through diplomacy … But that time is not unlimited.” A nuclear-armed Iran cannot be contained, said Obama, and the U.S. “will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”

No matter which man wins the presidency the next leader faces a daunting challenge which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outlined at the UN last Thursday.  The Israeli said Iran’s rulers repeatedly call for Israel’s destruction, threaten their neighbors, and stoke terrorism.  “Just imagine Iranian aggression with nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu warned.

Evidently Netanyahu persuaded Obama to reject an Iranian containment (deterrence) policy earlier this year.  Deterrence worked with the Soviets in the Cold War, Netanyahu explained, because it offered a choice between ideology and survival.  But militant jihadists like Iran’s ayatollahs view mutually assured destruction as an inducement, not a deterrent like the Soviets.  That is because, Netanyahu said, they believe “a medieval holy man will reappear in the wake of a devastating holy war, thereby ensuring that their brand of radical Islam will rule the earth.”

The prime minister cautioned “the hour is getting late” to stop “the Iranian nuclear program with diplomacy.”  He said “there is only one way to peacefully prevent Iran from getting atomic bombs … [that is] place a clear red line on Iran’s nuclear weapons program.”

That red-line comes next spring or early summer before Iran has enough medium enriched uranium to put it only weeks away from having sufficient material for a bomb, according to Netanyahu.  He believes once faced with a clear red line, “Iran will back down.”

However, should Iran remain uncooperative and should Obama be re-elected, the president is likely to use military force in spite of grave consequences: Iran could disrupt fuel supplies from the Persian Gulf, launch terrorist attacks on U.S. and Israeli facilities, and worse, drag America into another Mideast war.

Expect Obama’s attack to happen alongside Israel close to Netanyahu’s timeline, and understand his motivation is personal for three reasons.

First, Iran stubbornly rejected Obama’s best efforts to pressure the regime’s cooperation.

The president’s diplomacy failed.  He appealed to Iran in his inaugural address: “We will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”  Then Obama spoke directly to Iranians in a televised speech and sent Ayatollah Ali Khamenei a personal letter.

Obama restarted negotiations but the latest round ended this summer with no progress.  Yet, once again last week, foreign ministers from the so-called P5-plus-1 group of countries – the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany — met to discuss how to advance negotiations with Iran.

Sanctions haven’t worked either. In September 2009 Obama revealed the existence of a secret uranium-enrichment plant near the Iranian city of Qom.  That demolished Iran’s claim that it was interested only in peaceful nuclear energy and put in motion Obama’s effort to unite the UN behind new economic sanctions.  He personally lobbied the skeptical Russians and Chinese to support those sanctions which were approved in June 2010.

Those sanctions and others imposed unilaterally by the U.S. and with European partners impacted Iran’s oil exports and sent its currency in free fall, driving up food prices and joblessness.

Unfortunately Obama’s efforts failed to persuade the mullahs.  The regime continues expanding its enrichment facilities according to the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.  The agency also believes the regime has the technology to build a bomb and is improving its ability to deliver one via a ballistic missile or as Netanyahu said, aboard “a container ship.”

Second, Obama sees Iran as a threat to his faltering Middle East strategy.  Apparently, Netanyahu persuaded Obama to see Iran through different lenses and now is cooperating which implies some quid pro quo agreement and the prime minister’s softened tone.

“I very much appreciate the president’s position, as does everyone in my country,” Netanyahu told the UN after Obama pledged to block Iran’s path to nuclear weapons. And Netanyahu’s new red line further defused his tense relationship with Obama.

Apparently, Obama now understands that Iran’s leaders are easy demons that undermine his Middle East strategy.  They constantly spew existential threats at Israel, prop up the dictator in Damascus and supply him with combat forces and arms, threaten Arab allies, and support terrorist groups abroad.

Besides, in 2009, Obama refrained from supporting Iran’s nascent Green Movement that faced the regime’s violent crackdown. Obama said he did not want to “meddle” in Iranian affairs following what protestors said was a stolen election.  Now he evidently regrets that statement in light of the Arab Spring uprisings that forced him to completely revamp his regional strategy.

Further, Obama appears to reject the view a nuclear-armed Iran would actually stabilize the Middle East which explains his new found anti-containment policy.  Netanyahu said containing a nuclear Iran is “like saying a nuclear-armed al Qaeda would usher in an era of universal peace.”

Finally, Obama doesn’t want a nuclear Middle East to be his legacy.

In 2008, Obama promised to do a number of things regarding nuclear weapons and fissile material such as remove weapons from hair-trigger alert, stop the development of new nuclear weapons, seek dramatic reductions in nuclear stockpiles, ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and “lead a global effort to secure all nuclear weapons materials.”  At this point his only nonproliferation accomplishment is the NEW Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia albeit at considerable risk to U.S. security.  Now, the prospect of a nuclear Iran threatens to seriously tarnish that legacy.

There are good reasons to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities before that rogue crosses Netanyahu’s red line.  But for Obama there is another and more personal agenda.  Iran’s mullahs rejected Obama’s best efforts, undermine his Middle East strategy, and threaten to tarnish his presidential legacy.  That’s why, if re-elected, Obama is more likely than Romney to attack Iran and sooner.