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Last week, the New York Times reported that, “American intelligence analysts continue to believe that there is no hard evidence that Iran has decided to build a nuclear bomb.”  In his annual threat assessment, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper stated that Iran appears to be “keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons,” but “we do not know” what they will decide to do.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta echoed this sentiment in February, stating that, “I think they’re developing a nuclear capability [but] our intelligence makes clear that they haven’t made the decision to develop a nuclear weapon.”

It’s worrisome that the Republican Presidential candidates, one of whom  could be our next Commander in Chief, have chosen to ignore U.S. intelligence assessments and instead call for a preemptive strike that military experts agree would inevitably lead to another ground war and many casualties among Americans, Israelis and Iranians. 

In Arizona, Mitt Romney stressed that, “the price of gasoline pales in comparison to the idea of Ahmadinejad with nuclear weapons.” Previously, Romney has said, “Of course you take military action. It's unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon."

On his “Faith Family and Freedom” tour, Rick Santorum said that “option number one is to work with the Israelis and plan to implement a military strategy to stop them [Iran].” He continued, “but we all know that the events of 9/11 and attacks like that make the economic problems that we’re dealing with right now very small, if we were engaged in a war with someone who would now be under protection from a nuclear shield.”

Last year, Secretary of Defense Panetta argued that an attack on Iran would, “ultimately not destroy their [Iran’s] ability to produce an atomic weapon, but simply delay it.” Instead he warned that it would strengthen Iran’s resolve to build a weapon, bolster its support in the region, and put the safety of our own country in jeopardy. Additionally, he noted that an attack could undermine a “fragile economy here in the United States.”

Recently, a group of economic experts warned that a preemptive military strike on Iran could lead to another economic downturn in the United States.

The GOP candidates’ campaign rhetoric has helped unleash a rising level of fear in the US, which has led in part to an increase in gas prices of over 36 cents in just two months.  One can only imagine what an actual conflict would do to our economy.

 Of course, gas prices alone cannot dictate our policy towards Iran.  The United States should choose a path that makes the most national security and economic sense.

A military strike, or worse, another ground war, could completely destabilize our fragile economy and the entire Middle East. As Americans, we need to trust that our next Commander in Chief is listening to the advice of top military and intelligence officials and making an informed decision. But the candidates’ bellicose rhetoric indicates otherwise.

The U.S. has made economic progress over the last year and united most of the world against Iran’s nuclear aspirations. We cannot let irresponsible rhetoric and political posturing jeopardize those gains.

Laicie Olson is the Senior Policy Analyst at the Center for Arms Control and Non Proliferation.