DES MOINES, Iowa — Republicans wooing Iowa’s most active party members called Saturday for a stronger presence in the world but ran the gamut in tone and just how tough to get with America’s enemies.
On Armed Services Day – and a day the Obama administration reported killing a senior Islamic State leader in Syria – most of the nearly dozen GOP presidential prospects at a state party dinner called for a more confrontational stance toward Iran.
Former Sen. Rick Santorum’s answer for handling Iran, one of four countries on the U.S. list of nations accused of repeatedly supporting global terrorism, was to “load up our bombers and bomb them back to the seventh century.”
Earlier in the day, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush praised U.S. commandos who had reportedly killed the IS leader, described as the head of oil operations for IS. Bush gave no credit to Obama, whom Bush accused of allowing the rise of IS by pulling back U.S. forces from Iraq.
“It’s a great day, but it’s not a strategy,” Bush told reporters in eastern Iowa.
Although Bush joked lightly about the confused statements he made in recent days about whether he would have ordered the attack in Iraq in 2003, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul told the GOP gathering Saturday night that it was a “valid question” to ask presidential candidates whether they would have invaded Iraq and toppled Saddam Hussein.
“We have to question: Is Iraq more stable or less stable since Hussein is gone?” asked Paul, who espouses some of the hands-off foreign policy of his father, former Texas Rep. Ron Paul.
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham tried to reject any assertion that the existing problems in Iraq were the result of the Republican president who ordered the invasion, Bush’s brother George W. Bush.
“The person I blame is Barack Obama, not George W. Bush,” said Graham, who criticized Obama for keeping a campaign promise to withdraw combat troops from Iraq. Of George W. Bush, Graham said, “He made the best decision he could.”
Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, as did others, accused Obama of not taking the threat of Islamic State militants seriously. Perry pointed to claims by the militant group, disputed by terrorism experts, that it was behind the assault on a Texas cartoon contest that featured images of the Prophet Muhammad.
“You see ISIS showing up in Garland, Texas,” Perry said. “You realize this is a challenging world we live in.”
Aside from the nuances on Republican policy toward Iran and IS militants in Iraq, the GOP presidential prospects were united in taking jabs at Democratic candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton. They linked Clinton to Obama and mocked her for not fielding more questions during her campaign events.
Former business executive Carly Fiorina said that if Clinton is going to run for president, “she is going to have to answer some questions.” Paul joked about whether Clinton “ever takes any questions.” Earlier in the day Bush said he had taken between 800 and 900 questions, compared to a handful by Clinton.
In one of the more specific broadsides against Clinton, Fiorina said the former first lady must not be president because “she is not trustworthy, she lacks a track record of leadership and her policies will crush the potential of this nation.”
Others who spoke at the Des Moines event, which roughly 1,300 Iowa Republicans attended, were former surgeon Ben Carson, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former New York Gov. George Pataki, businessman Donald Trump and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.
Walker, who appeared at an afternoon fundraiser for a Des Moines area county official, called for a stepped-up fight against terrorism.
Having recently visited Israel and met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Walker called the Obama administration’s foreign policy to “draw a red line in the sand and allow people to cross it.” Instead, he suggested that the United States “take the fight to them.”