But yesterday, another top Romney adviser Richard Williamson went a bit further. Pressed by CNN’s Soledad O’Brien to offer a substantive difference between Romney’s and Obama’s Iran policies, Williamson at first struggled but ultimately said that the military option should be “seriously considered” if Iran “gets to nuclear breakout”:
O’BRIEN: So, are you telling me that Governor Romney would be willing to bomb Iran if it looks like they’re getting nuclear weapons? That they would whether it’s with or without Israel, bomb Iran to end that — they cross the red line, bomb Iran?
WILLIAMSON: I’m saying two things. First, on the sanctions, it’s not just talking abstractly about sanctions. This administration has allowed Moscow and Beijing to determine what sanctions we can put in force. Governor Romney has made clear he’s going to put tough sanctions in force for the coalition and not play “Mother, may I” with the U.N. Security Council.
Second, that Tehran should know that Governor Romney is committed to work everything possible diplomatically to avoid having to use force. But if it gets to nuclear breakout, military options are on the table and have to be seriously considered.
Watch the interview (conversation quoted above begins at 3:02):
While it’s unclear what Williamson means by “breakout,” that threshold by some definitions is lower than nuclear weapons capability. “Breakout” could mean the decision to acquire and action on acquiring all the necessary components for a bomb (such as enriching low-enriched uranium to a higher purity), while “capability,” what Romney’s adviser previously referred to last weekend, could be described as actually obtaning all the necessary components after the decision to breakout.
As this blog has previous noted, While Obama has said an Iranian nuclear weapon is “unacceptable,” declaring a nuclear “capability” an American “red line” that would trigger war sets a lower threshold for U.S. military involvement. The CIA has laid out a specific definition, but again, the “nuclear capability” language is a complex issue. The word “capability” has a special meaning in the non-proliferation context, but it’s not always clear exactly what. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), one of the Senate’s most vociferous Iran hawks, said this year, “I guess everybody will determine for themselves what that means.” Iran hawks in Congress pushed a bill this year to shift the official U.S. “red line” to a nuclear “capability.”
For his part, President Obama considers a potential Iranian nuclear weapon a threat to both the security of the U.S. and its allies in the region, as well as the nuclear non-proliferation regime. And he’s vowed again and again to keep all options on the table to deal wtih it. U.S., U.N. and Israeli intelligence estimates give the West time to pursue a dual-track approach of building international pressure and using diplomacy to resolve the crisis. Questions about the efficacy and potential consequences of a strike have led U.S. officials to declare that diplomacy is the “best and most permanent way” to resolve the crisis. Obama has also reaffirmed Israel’s “sovereign right to make its own decisions about what is required to meet its security needs.”