Suddenly, there is an imperative for the Republicans running for president to be mature, poised, mostly silent and even respectful of the current president's responsibilities.

The Post reports that Iran is closer to having a nuclear weapon than has been previously thought. The International Atomic Energy Agency will release a full report later this week.

I am reminded by Philip Zelikow that it is the official policy of the United States, and it has been publicly repeated by President Obama, that Iran should not be permitted to have nuclear weapons. Zelikow is Dean for the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Virginia. He is also a veteran of the White House, the State Department, and the 9/11 Commission. He says this is a “water’s edge” issue for American politics.

There is no up-side for any Republican candidate to wander into this issue without exercising great care. There will be a debate among the GOP candidates on national security issues on Nov. 12 in South Carolina. The candidates should resist the temptation to criticize the president on this issue, as he may be in the process of making real-time decisions. The candidates all have experienced, smart foreign-policy advisors, but no one in a campaign has access to the intelligence information or the analysis from the U.S. military that could shape the president’s options and actions. Besides, there will be plenty of time to criticize him after the fact if necessary.

Obama needs to huddle closely with our ally Israel, clearly think through the options and have the confidence to take bold action. There is no chance that playing with hypothetical scenarios, or just plain guessing, could help a Republican candidate or the American cause. 

If Obama wins the election, it will not be because of whatever action he does or does not take against Iran. If he loses, it will be because of the economy. The issue of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons is of vital importance, but it won’t be a vote-getter for the GOP ticket in November 2012. Gratuitously offering uninformed opinions or tiresome, self-serving “I’ll be a tough commander in chief” rhetoric may actually do some harm. The Iranians could get the wrong idea about America’s resolve.