GOP candidates argue for more aggressive stance on Iran

At Arizona debate, Romney says Obama should have “communicated to Iran that we are considering military options"; Gingrich to address AIPAC next month.

Republican debate Arizona 390 (photo credit: REUTERS)
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.
“I do 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 weapons.”
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 actor.”
“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.
Paul contributed 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.
CNN moderator John King asked Romney whether the impact tensions with Iran have on gas prices should be a dissuading factor in any confrontation.
“The price 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.
“We 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 will happen.”
Following the debate, the Democratic National Committee pushed back against Romney’s dig at Obama and defended the president’s stance on Iran.
“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 weapon.
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.”