GOP hopefuls face off on Iranian nuclear policy

Mitt Romney: "We’ll stick with Israel"; Ron Paul: Washington should get out of Jerusalem’s way.

Republican candidates at debate 22 Nov 311 R (photo credit: REUTERS/Jim Bourg)
Republican candidates at debate 22 Nov 311 R
(photo credit: REUTERS/Jim Bourg)
WASHINGTON – One day after the US announced new, tougher measures against Tehran in response to Iran’s continued efforts to produce nuclear weapons, Republican presidential hopefuls offered near-unanimous support for Israel in its efforts to prevent a nuclear Iran.
Across-the-board isolationist Ron Paul was the only exception to this rule.
Just a short walk – and possibly 12 months – separated the Republican contenders from the White House when they appeared on Tuesday evening at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington for a debate co-sponsored by CNN and two right-leaning think tanks, the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute.
The majority of questions were posed by representatives of the think tanks, and Iran’s role in the Middle East loomed large on the stage.
Mike Gonzales, vice president of communications for the Heritage Foundation, asked if “Israel attacked Iran to prevent Tehran from getting nuclear weapons, would you help Israel launch the attack or support it otherwise? Herman Cain, the candidate and businessman from Georgia, appeared at first unclear as to the question, but quickly recovered, explaining that “I would first make sure that [Israel] had a credible plan for success, clarity of mission and clarity of success.
“Remember, when you talk about attacking Iran, it is a very mountainous region.
The latest reports say that there may be 40 different [nuclear facility] locations, and I would want to make sure that we had a good idea from intelligence sources where these are located.”
If Israel presented “a credible plan that it appeared as if they could succeed,” Cain said that he would “support Israel and in some instances, depending upon how strong the plan is, we would join with Israel for that, if it was clear what the mission was and it was clear what the definition of victory was.”
Cain’s response was greeted by applause from the audience in Washington.
Texas Rep. Ron Paul said he had no intention to aid Israel, but first emphasized his belief that no such attack would occur. “The Mossad leader that just retired [Meir Dagan] said it would be the stupidest thing to do in the world. And it’s a big argument over in Israel. They’re not about to do this,” Paul explained.
Paul then said that if such an attack were planned, the US “need to get out of their way,” and that Washington “interferes” with Israel “when they deal with their borders.”
“When they want to have peace treaties, we tell them what they can do because we buy their allegiance and they sacrifice their sovereignty to us. And then they decide they want to bomb something, that’s their business, but they should, you know, suffer the consequences,” he continued.
“Why should we commit – we don’t even have a treaty with Israel. Why do we have this automatic commitment that we’re going to send our kids and send our money endlessly to Israel,” Paul said.
On a second question on the Islamic Republic, Texas Gov. Rick Perry offered strong support for sanctions against the country, particularly against the Iranian Central Bank.
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich focused on Iran’s four million barrels a day of oil exports, much of which is destined for Europe.
“We ought to have a massive all-sources energy program in the United States designed to, once again, create a surplus of energy here, so we could say to the Europeans pretty cheerfully, that all the various sources of oil we have in the United States, we could literally replace the Iranian oil,” he said.
Gingrich said Washington “needs a strategy of defeating and replacing the current Iranian regime with minimum use of force. We need a strategy, as [candidate and former Pennsylvania senator] Rick Santorum was saying, of being honest about radical Islam and designing a strategy to defeat it wherever it happens to exist.
“If we were serious, we could break the Iranian regime, I think, within a year, starting candidly with cutting off the gasoline supply to Iran, and then, frankly, sabotaging the only refinery they have,” continued Gingrich.
Later in the debate, he drew criticism from some Republicans for a seemingly lax stance on illegal immigration, saying the US was not going to deport people who had been in the country for decades, had grown children born in the country, had not criminal records, and who belonged to a church.
Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann joined in the fray over sanctions, reminding her rivals that the reason that Israel was considering striking Iran was because of Iran’s intent to attack Israel.
“This isn’t just an idle threat,” warned Bachmann. “This is a reality. And that’s why President Obama has – has failed the American people, because for two-and-ahalf years he gave Iran the luxury of time.
He met with them with no preconditions.
It’s the doctrine of appeasement. He has changed the course of history because at the time when we needed a leader most, we didn’t have one.”
Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney emphasized that “the right course for [us on] Israel is to show that we care about Israel, that they are our friend, we’ll stick with them.” He added that his first foreign trip as president would be to Israel.
Later, Santorum also promised that his first trip would also be to Israel.
Iran remained at the forefront of the debate, even when questions were asked concerning the US-Mexico border. Asked about border infiltrations, Perry warned that “we’re seeing countries start to come in and infiltrate. We know that Hamas and Hezbollah are working in Mexico, as well as Iran, with their ploy to come into the United States.”
Asked about his proposal for a no-fly zone over Syria, Perry again invoked Tehran, saying “Syria is a partner with Iran in exporting terrorism all across that part of the world and around the globe. So if we're serious abut Iran then we have to be serious about Syria as well.”
Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman Jr., left out of the original chain of questions on Iran, interjected his belief that “sanctions aren’t going to work; I hate to break it to you. They’re not going to work because the Chinese aren’t going to play ball and the Russians aren’t going to play ball.”
Echoing Romney, the former ambassador to China said that “our interest in the Middle East is Israel. And our interest is to ensure that Israel – that Iran does not go nuclear.”