The PJ Tatler

Actual NYT Headline: 'Iran Face-Off Testing Obama the Candidate'

How about testing Obama the actual president and commander in chief? He has been in office long enough now that if Iran goes nuclear, that’s part of his presidential legacy whether it merits a footnote in his third autobiography or not. But the Times frames the debate through its effect on politics, despite the fact that a nuclear Iran together with an Islamist Egypt would fundamentally transform the Middle East. That isn’t the fundamental transformation this president promised to deliver.

The escalating American confrontation with Iran poses a major new political threat to President Obama as he heads into his campaign for re-election, presenting him with choices that could harm either the economic recovery or his image as a firm leader.

Wait, this is President GutsyCall. Surely he’ll bring steel to bear.

Sanctions against Iran’s oil exports that the president signed into law on New Year’s Eve started a fateful clock ticking. In late June, when the campaign is in full swing, Mr. Obama will have to decide whether to take action against countries, including some staunch allies, if they continue to buy Iranian oil through its central bank.

After fierce lobbying by the White House, which opposed this hardening in the sanctions that have been its main tool in pressuring Tehran, Congress agreed to modify the legislation to give Mr. Obama leeway to delay action if he concludes the clampdown would disrupt the oil market. He may also invoke a waiver to exempt any country from sanctions based on national security considerations.

It’s funny in a morbid sort of way. Waivers will create holes in the sanctions large enough to drive UN oil-for-food trucks through. The sanctions will be meaningless in the real world, but useful for the president to portray himself as doing something. Even though he lobbied against it. He’s Present!