Bibi's UN speech puts pressure on presidential candidates

During his speech at the U.N. General Assembly this afternoon, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu busted out a diagram of a cartoonish bomb and a red marker to indicate where he would draw a red line for taking preemptive military action against Iran's nuclear facilities. He argued that his red line would come before the third stage in acquiring a nuclear weapon: Iran enriching enough high-enriched uranium to build a bomb (according to Netanyahu, Iran is currently "well into" the second stage, and will complete this phase -- and, by extension, trigger Netanyahu's red line -- by next spring or summer "at most"):

Where should a red line be drawn? A red line should be drawn right here -- before Iran completes the second stage of nuclear enrichment necessary to make a bomb. Before Iran gets to a point where it's a few months away or a few weeks away from amassing enough enriched uranium to make a nuclear weapon. 

Whatever analysts may think about the wisdom of using such rudimentary props for such a grave topic, Netanyahu's words are still significant because the Israeli prime minister has avoided defining his red line with such specificity in the past. When NBC's David Gregory asked Netanyahu about his red line during a recent appearance on Meet the Press, for example, Netanyahu mentioned acting "before they get nuclear weapons" but then resorted to football-inspired platitudes.  "They are in the red zone," he explained. "You know, they are in the last 20 yards. And you can't let them cross that goal line. You can't let them score a touchdown."

Unless you interpret Barack Obama's pledge to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon rather liberally, the position Netanyahu staked out today appears to be at odds with the president's. Netanyahu is saying that Iran's capacity to develop a nuclear weapon in short order is unacceptable -- a stance Mitt Romney recently embraced as well (after claiming that his red line was the same as Obama's, only for the campaign to walk the statement back). But Romney hasn't offered details about where along Iran's spectrum of nuclear development he would draw his red line (an advisor told the New York Times that the candidate "would not be content with an Iran one screwdriver's turn away from a nuclear weapon"). Netanyahu, it seems, wants to intervene well before Iran's nuclear scientists reach for the screwdriver. 

In the days and weeks ahead, the indelible image of Netanyahu drawing a thick red line on his crude diagram could compel Romney to offer more specifics about his red line, and Obama to explain how and why his stance differs from the Israeli prime minister's, if at all.  

Here's the key clip from Netanyahu's speech, via BuzzFeed:

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New poll: Romney overtakes Obama on terrorism

The foreign-policy results of the new Bloomberg National Poll haven't gotten much attention yet, but the survey contains some bad news for the Obama campaign. According to the poll, Mitt Romney has a 48-42 advantage over Barack Obama on the question of which candidate would be tougher on terrorism. Romney, in other words, has encroached on one of Obama's signature strengths.

What makes this result so surprising is that the president has consistently trounced Romney when it comes to counterterrorism. A Fox News poll earlier this month found that 49 percent of respondents trusted Obama to do a better job than Romney in protecting the United States from terrorist attacks, compared with 41 percent who put their faith in the Republican candidate. The president had a 51-40 advantage on handling terrorism in an ABC News/Washington Post poll around the same time, and a 50-35 edge on carrying out the war on terror in an Ipsos/Reuters poll in August. The Democrats' rare national-security muscle was on full display at their convention, where speakers boasted about the administration's successful raid against Osama bin Laden and targeted killings of al Qaeda leaders.  

The Bloomberg poll contains other grim findings for Obama -- such as declining approval of the president's diplomacy and a neck-and-neck battle between Obama and Romney on flashpoint campaign issues such as energy independence, Chinese trade practices, relations with Israel, and Iran's nuclear program (61 percent of respondents were skeptical about Obama's pledge to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon). There are also bright spots for the president, like healthy skepticism about Romney's promise to designate China a currency manipulator and Obama's continued advantage over Romney on the question of which candidate would be better suited to handle a Mideast crisis.

Significantly, Bloomberg's survey, which was conducted from Sept. 21-24, is one of the first polls to come out since the wave of anti-American protests in the Middle East. The key question: Is Romney's terrorism advantage an anomaly, or a sign that Obama is more vulnerable on national security after the unrest in the Middle East and the administration's shifting account of the deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi?

Given that a separate poll this weeks shows Obama besting Romney on national security among likely voters in swing states, it may be too early to answer that question.

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