March 6, 2012 -- President Obama today rebuffed criticism that he has been weak on Iran, accusing his Republican rivals of "beating the drums of war" amid rising concerns about the prospect of Iran's developing a nuclear weapon.
"What's said on the campaign trail, you know, those folks don't have a lot of responsibilities," the president said at his first White House news conference of the year. "They're not commander in chief."
The president warned that critics of his Iran policy, "folks who have a lot of bluster and a lot of big talk," are neglecting the true costs of war.
"This is not a game. And there's nothing casual about it," the president said. "We don't play politics with it. When we have in the past, when we haven't thought it through and it gets wrapped up in politics, we make mistakes."
Republican front-runner Mitt Romney has accused the Obama administration of having "dawdled" with sanctions against Iran.
"As president, I will be ready to engage in diplomacy," Romney told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Policy Conference today. "But I will be just as ready to engage our military might. Israel will know that America stands at its side, in all conditions and in all consequence."
The president portrayed such remarks as dangerous political posturing. "I think there's no doubt that those who are suggesting or proposing or beating the drums of war should explain clearly to the American people what they think the costs and benefits would be. I'm not one of those people," he said.
Today's "Super Tuesday" news conference gave the president a chance to divert attention away from the Republican presidential candidates, who are facing off in 10 contests today.
When asked to respond to Romney's accusations about his foreign policy, Obama simply wished Romney "good luck tonight."
"No, really?" one reporter asked.
"Really," Obama responded to laughter from the White House press corps.
Today was not the first time the president sought to counter-program the Republican primaries. Last Tuesday, the same day as the Michigan and Arizona primaries, the president gave a fiery speech touting his bailout of the auto industry and sharply criticizing his Republican rivals for the presidency.
When it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, the president continued to argue there is still a "window of opportunity" for diplomatic and economic pressures to work.
Notably absent from the president's remarks, however, were his recent calls for all options, including military action, to be on the table.
Obama's continued push for diplomacy comes as the Israelis have asked the White House to more starkly threaten military action against Iran if it continues to violate its international agreements to refrain from building a nuclear weapon.
Obama assured Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu Monday that "the United States will always have Israel's back when it comes to Israel's security." Today the president explained he was simply restating his "consistent position that the security of Israel is something I deeply care about."
"It was not a military doctrine that we were laying out for any particular military action," Obama said.
Obama Unveils Latest Housing Plan
While today's news conference was dominated largely by foreign policy, Obama began by highlighting the housing crisis, announcing new mortgage relief for U.S. military personnel and homeowners with government-insured loans.
Obama told reporters that he is not satisfied to "sit by and wait for the housing market hits bottom," casting himself as a president in charge of the recovery.
The president's plan lets borrowers with mortgages insured by the Federal Housing Administration refinance at lower rates, saving the typical borrower roughly $1,000 a year, according to the White House.
Obama said this step will "make refinancing even more attractive to families," noting that it was akin to a tax cut for U.S. families.
While the president called for Congress to act on his broader mortgage refinance plan, he emphasized that the steps he announced today require no congressional approval.
The president also announced relief for military personnel forced to sell their homes for less than the amount owed because of a permanent change in their station.
"It is unconscionable," Obama said, that members of the armed forces and their families have been some of the most susceptible to losing their homes because of the actions of unscrupulous banks and lenders.
Service members will receive refunds if they were wrongfully denied the opportunity to reduce their mortgage payments through lower interest rates. In addition, any military personnel wrongly foreclosed upon will be compensated for lost equity, plus interest and $116,785.
It has been five months to the day since the president's last formal, solo, White House news conference.