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Obama's Super Tuesday: In Command but Cautious on Iran

Obama's Super Tuesday: In Command but Cautious on Iran

By Alexis Simendinger - March 7, 2012


President Obama's smile stretched ear-to-ear, although a muscle beneath his right eye beat in tiny, distracting spasms.

Super Tuesday at the White House produced the first Obama news conference of 2012, after a dry spell of five months. From the White House perspective, it was the perfect afternoon to be on offense.

Republican rivals romped through primaries in Ohio and Tennessee and eight other states, in a slugfest over the Oval Office. And the man with the 100-watt smile stepped into a crowded, overheated White House briefing room to coolly emphasize that he has the job those others seek, and is working hard to keep it.

What a difference a few months can make. Unemployment is trending down, the president’s job approval numbers are up, and consumer confidence is the highest it’s been in a year. In head-to-head match-ups against his GOP challengers, Obama is ahead in the most recent polls. And during a 44-minute news conference, the economy was not the press corps’ preoccupation. Obama needed to bring the larger economy into the conversation himself.

“We've clearly seen some positive economic news over the last few months,” he said. “Businesses have created about 3.7 million new jobs over the last two years. Manufacturers are hiring for the first time since the 1990s. The auto industry is back and hiring more than 200,000 people over the last few years. Confidence is up. And the economy is getting stronger.”

When the president was asked what he would say to Mitt Romney, who called Obama the most “feckless” president since Jimmy Carter because of his Iran policy, Obama responded with an easy grin. “Good luck tonight” was his message. When a reporter, sounding dubious, followed with, “No really,” the president was clearly having some fun. “Really,” he said through a smile that was at once warm and playfully taunting.

Obama expects to face Romney in the general election, and his campaign team anticipated Tuesday’s results would help clarify the GOP delegate math, with 424 of the necessary 1,144 delegates up for grabs.

At the White House, a Super Tuesday news conference was an opportunity for Obama to seize some media coverage, and to appear patient and presidential. The afternoon event was intended to be something of a contrast between the messy, bruising race among warring Republicans, and an incumbent president showing that he is focused on the responsibilities and headaches of governing.

Obama talked up his influence on a recovering economy, wars ongoing and contemplated, the achievements of Congress, and on policies important to American women.

About the threat of war with Iran, Obama’s policy message was that he and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are determined to prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear weapon, and that all options for prevention -- not containment -- are on the table. His political message was that Republican musings about war with Iran have been “bluster.”

Netanyahu, one day after meeting Obama at the White House, met with congressional leaders on Capitol Hill Tuesday. When asked by a reporter if he had decided to attack Iran preemptively to secure Israel from a neighboring threat, the prime minister said he would not discuss his decision-making.

During a forceful speech Monday night to the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington, Netanyahu said diplomacy and sanctions have not succeeded in reducing Tehran’s nuclear threat. Iran remains a danger to the United States, to Israel, and to the world, he said.

Also on Tuesday, the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany accepted a February offer from Iran to resume official talks about its disputed uranium enrichment activities.

"My friends, Israel has patiently waited for the international community to resolve this issue," Netanyahu told AIPAC on Monday. "We've waited for diplomacy to work. We've waited for sanctions to work. None of us can afford to wait much longer. As prime minister of Israel, I will never let my people live in the shadow of annihilation."

Many among the 13,000 Jewish activists at the gathering leaped to their feet to applaud.

Netanyahu is widely viewed as an astute analyst of domestic U.S. politics, and a leader who is confident Israel enjoys strong bipartisan support in Congress.

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Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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