EDITOR'S NOTE: Edwin Tanji died Wednesday after losing a battle with cancer. He wrote several columns in his final weeks. His last two columns will be run on Sept. 21 and 28.
The next three months will be a trying time for Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu, anxiously awaiting results of the U.S. presidential election. For Israel, there are clear differences between candidates and parties as it affects Israel.
But American voters are focused this fall on what matters most to them: the economy, jobs and taxes. Not American foreign policy.
For the rest of the world and especially Israel and Iran, facing off in what potentially would drag all of the Middle East as well as the United States into war, American foreign policy matters.
Despite the rumblings in the dispute over Iran's nuclear ambitions, though, nothing untoward likely will happen until the election is over. None of the adversaries wish to influence the outcome by forcing American foreign policy decisions to the forefront of the campaign. If an escalating conflict between Israel or Iran led the United States to intervene with military force, voters will be less likely to change leadership fearing that a hampered president leads to an inadequate military response. President Obama's decisions would be less open to challenge and his decision that successfully eliminated Osama bin Laden will be a constant refrain.
Israel has an interest in underlying ideologies and attitudes on foreign policy evinced by President Obama and candidate Romney. While there are obvious nuances, Romney and Republicans are stronger proponents of American exceptionalism, the concept that the world's strongest, most efficient military force has a leading role and ability to protect the national interest.
It does not mean America should be a global police force. It does mean the U.S. has the ability, authority and will to turn to military action to implement policy goals. That was apparent in President George W. Bush's decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein based on questionable evidence.
In contrast, Obama emphasizes diplomacy, negotiations and reliance on global partnerships to achieve U.S. goals. Military action is an option but as a big stick. To many Americans, diplomacy is slow, frustrates the national interest and at times seems to be capitulation. It doesn't help that the diplomatic strategy of stringent sanctions against Iran has not been effective.
An analysis by Bush foreign policy adviser Robert D. Blackwell notes the American public would support military action. It is among essays on issues and options in "Iran, the nuclear challenge," published this summer by the Council on Foreign Relations/Foreign Affairs.
"If adequately prepared, the American people would support a U.S. initiated war to attempt to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons," he wrote citing a Pew Research Center survey finding 58 support military action to 30 percent opposed ("A U.S. attack on Iran," 2012).
American military support for an Israeli action would win public support as well, although the level of support is less certain if Israel were to take the lead. Georgetown assistant professor/government Matthew Kroenig's analysis finds an Israeli action would not be as effective as an American strike with greater capabilities for targeting sites deeply protected in mountainsides and bunkers. Much would depend on the Iranian response to a less-effective Israeli strike. Kroenig notes Iran could respond with all of its military as well as it asymmetric forces, "terrorist and proxy groups." But there are other likely scenarios.
"Iran would try to carefully navigate its strategic dilemma. On the one hand, it would want to strike back hard enough to save face domestically and re-establish deterrence internationally. On the other, it would want to avoid a major war that might lead to the destruction of the regime . . . there is reason to believe that Iran's leaders might aim for some kind of calibrated response" ("Assessing Israel's military option," 2012).
Beyond Nov. 6, America's foreign policy choices will be debated in Congress, but the decisions to be made will be dictated by what voters decide.
* Edwin Tanji was a former city editor of The Maui News. "Haku Mo'olelo," "writing stories," is about stories that are being written or have been written.