Maybe more than at any other time in this presidential contest, the politics of Iran came into sharp focus today, as President Obama engaged with his GOP rivals -- though not by name -- over that thorny subject.
And it highlighted the starkly different world views between the incumbent president up for re-election in November and the Republican candidates who are vying to replace him.
“What's said on the campaign trail -- you know, those folks don't have a lot of responsibilities,” Obama said this afternoon in the White House Briefing Room during a news conference, his first in three months and just so happens to fall on Super Tuesday. “They're not commander in chief.”
He criticized them for talking about war with a certain “casualness.” “This is not a game,” Obama said. “And there's nothing casual about it.”
He derided the field for “bluster” and “big talk” that’s “more about politics than actually trying to solve a difficult problem.”
Romney today, showing just how starkly different his worldview is from Obama.
“Israel does not need public lectures about how to weigh decisions of war and peace,” Romney said during a speech before AIPAC, the pro-Israel in Washington. “It needs our support.”
He called the president’s policy, one of “procrastination” and said that he, instead, would make this specific promise: “I will station multiple aircraft carriers and warships at Iran's door.”
Rick Santorum today during his speech before AIPAC echoed the hard-line hawkish views toward Iran that he has espoused throughout the campaign.
“If they do not tear down those facilities, we will tear them down ourselves,” Santorum said, referring to Iran’s nuclear facilities.
He added, in almost direct response to the president’s criticism, “This is not bellicosity and warmongering. This is preventing the most radical regime in the world from having a weapon that could fundamentally change the security posture not just of the Middle East, but as we've seen with planned attacks here in the United States, a nuclear Iran with a nuclear shield to project terror around the world is a nightmare for all freedom-loving people in the world.”
But that’s par for the course for Santorum. Campaigning in New Hampshire back in January, Santorum said that if Iran were to acquire a nuclear weapon, he contended, events like the terrorist attacks on 9/11 would become “a routine occurrence.”
Newt Gingrich during his speech to AIPAC today – once again – invoked a potential “second Holocaust.”
“I would provide all available intelligence to the Israel government, ensure that they had the equipment necessary, and reassure them that if an Israeli prime minister decides that he has to avoid the threat of a second Holocaust through preemptive measures, that I would require no advanced notice to understand why I would support the right of Israel to survive in a dangerous world,” he said.
On Capitol Hill, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) called for a “declaration of war” vote as a credible step in showing Iran that moving toward making nuclear weapons is unacceptable, NBC’s Debra Pettit reports. He called sanctions useful, but said they haven’t deterred Iran from going forward with their nuclear weapons plans.
Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said he is "against any rush" to have such a vote.
"I think we have to be very cautious," Reid said, adding, "I am not going to be going forward rushing for a declaration of war.” And, like the president, he urged Republicans to stop throwing around the word "war" so casually."
Santorum also acknowledged the politics of the day, this being Super Tuesday.
“This is a somewhat important day in my life today,” he said. “But I wanted to come off the campaign trail to come here, because one of the reasons that I decided to run for president is because of the grave concern I have about the security of our country.”
When asked about Romney's criticism of his foreign policy at today's news conference, Obama showed he's ready for the general-election fight.
"Good luck tonight," he said. "Really!"