Republican debate Arizona 390.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – Republican presidential candidates Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney and
Rick Santorum argued during Wednesday night’s GOP debate for a more aggressive
US stance on Iran that would include more explicit threats to use force against
Tehran’s nuclear program.
With six days to go before the next key
primaries in Michigan and Arizona, where the debate was held, Iran once again
emerged as the preeminent foreign policy issue during the exchange.
believe there are moments when you preempt,” former US House speaker Gingrich
said, referring to Iran’s threats against Israel. “If you think a madman is
about to have nuclear weapons and you think that madman is going to use those
nuclear weapons, then you have an absolute moral obligation to defend the lives
of your people by eliminating the capacity to get nuclear
Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, said that US
President Barack Obama should have “communicated to Iran that we are prepared,
that we are considering military options. They’re not just on the
table. They are in our hand.”
The audience in Mesa, Arizona,
warmly applauded both candidates’ sentiments.
Romney also criticized
Obama for instead communicating to Israel that he doesn’t want Jerusalem to take
any military action against Iran.
Gingrich, too, attacked the Obama
administration, taking issue with the words of Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of
the US military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, Sunday that that Iran was a “rational
“I just cannot imagine why he would have said it,” Gingrich said.
“The fact is, this is a dictator, Ahmadinejad, who has said he doesn’t believe
the Holocaust existed. This is a dictator who said he wants to eliminate
Israel from the face of the earth."
Santorum said he agreed with both of
his opponents, stressing his work when he was a senator from Pennsylvania to get
sanctions imposed on Iran in 2008.
Santorum has eclipsed Romney in most
national polls, which give him between 30 and 35 percent support compared to
Romney’s high 20s, though Romney leads in the delegate count for the Republican
nomination by 84 to Santorum’s 14 and Romney won the most recent contest in
Maine after suffering a trio of losses to Santorum. Gingrich, who is slated to
appear at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in early March, has won
fewer primaries than Santorum but surpasses his delegate tally with
29. Texas Rep. Ron Paul trails the pack with 11.
the sole voice of dissent on Iran. He made arguments against increasing rhetoric
and actions against Iran based on what he termed moral, constitutional and
economic grounds – namely, that there is no evidence Iran has a weapon; that it
is Congress rather than the president that authorizes use of force; and that any
further sanctions and military engagements would rack up more debt.
moderator John King asked Romney whether the impact tensions with Iran have on
gas prices should be a dissuading factor in any confrontation.
of gasoline pales in comparison to the idea of Ahmadinejad with nuclear weapons,
Ahmadinejad having fissile material that he can give to Hezbollah and Hamas and
that they can bring into Latin America and potentially bring across the border
into the United States to let off dirty bombs here,” Romney said.
must now allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon,” he continued. “If they do, the
world changes. America will be at risk. And some day, nuclear weaponry will be
used. If I am president, that will not happen. If we reelect Barack Obama, it
Following the debate, the Democratic National Committee
pushed back against Romney’s dig at Obama and defended the president’s stance on
“Contrary to Romney’s attacks, President Obama has made it clear he
will not allow a nuclear Iran, and put in place the most severe sanctions Iran
has ever faced,” read the DNC statement, which included quotes highlighting
Obama’s stated commitment to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear
The statement argued that Obama has shown strong support for
Israel and its right to defend itself.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu praised
President Obama for his efforts to prevent Iranian nuclearization and for
defending Israel’s right to protect itself against Iranian proxies,” according
to the statement, which quoted Netanyahu telling Congress, “President Obama has
said that the United States is determined to prevent Iran from developing
nuclear weapons. The president successfully led the Security Council at the UN
to adopt sanctions against Iran.”