Former Bush Administration Official: Obama Has ‘Been Very Tough With Iran’

Nicholas Burns

GOP presidential candidates and Republican pundits are eager to accuse the White House of being insufficiently tough with Iran. News that Israel and the U.S. canceled a planned joint military exercise set off speculation that the move reflected a desire of the Obama administration to tamp down friction with Iran. Indeed, the past week has brought a spike in tensions after the assassination of another Iranian nuclear scientist and published reports that agents with Israel’s Mossad spy agency posed as CIA operatives to recruit members of the Jundallah terrorist network to stage attacks against Iran.

But while the right wing repeats the claim that Obama projects American “weakness” abroad, the administration found an unlikely defender in Nicholas Burns, a career Foreign Service officer and the United States Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs during the George W. Bush administration, who responded to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s recent claim that cancellation of the joint military exercises is “the biggest act of weakness by any American president in my lifetime.” Burns responded in an interview with Andrea Mitchell yesterday on MSNBC:

BURNS: President Obama has essentially followed President Bush’s policy towards Iran in President Bush’s second term. […] I think President Obama has tried to negotiate with Iran but he’s been very tough with Iran and pushing increasingly tough sanctions on them. In fact, President Obama just announced sanctions on Iran’s central bank. President Obama has not taken the military option off the table. So it’s an extreme exaggeration, in fact it’s just plain wrong to say somehow he’s weak in the face of this challenge.

I would say President Obama has been responsible for garnering a greater measure of international support for what we’re trying to do and I think Iran is probably more isolated today than the day that President Obama took office.

Watch it:

The GOP will, no doubt, continue to challenge Obama’s Iran strategy. But the reality, as Burns points out, is that the Obama administration has brought unprecedented multilateral pressure on Iran to fully cooperate with the IAEA. GOP attacks on Obama’s foreign policy have clearly gotten too detached from reality when a Bush administration under secretary of state is stepping up to defend the Obama administration’s record.