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Quotes | How the GOP Presidential Hopefuls Address the Issue of Iran

by MUHAMMAD SAHIMI in Los Angeles

02 Jan 2012 16:46Comments
Iowa_Republican_Debate_Logo.jpg[ quote, unquote ] The first meaningful votes in the 2012 presidential race will be cast Tuesday when Iowa holds its Republican Party caucus. Although economic issues dominate the race, foreign policy is also playing an important role. The Republican candidates perceive the latter as generally a strong suit for President Barack Obama, because of what are considered his numerous successes, such as ending the Iraq war, ratcheting up the Afghanistan war as he promised during the 2008 campaign, killing Osama bin Laden, and intervening in Libya without putting U.S. soldiers on the ground. The primary exception is the president's Iran policy, which the Republicans claim to be "weak." Thus the rhetoric about Iran and its nuclear program, which in turn brings in the subject of support for Israel, has been fierce.

Minnesota Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann

After Britain closed the Islamic Republic's embassy in London in response to the attack on its Tehran embassy, Bachmann applauded the move, saying that if she were president, "That's exactly what I would do. We would not have an embassy in Iran. I would not allow that to be there." Recall that President Jimmy Carter cut off diplomatic relations with Iran in April 1980. Since then, there has not been any U.S. embassy in Tehran, where the Swiss legation represents American interests. Bachmann's campaign denied that she had committed a gaffe and claimed that she meant to say "if the U.S. had an embassy in Tehran."

In an interview on February 23, 2007, Bachmann discussed the situation in Iraq, claiming,

Iran is the trouble maker, trying to tip over apple carts all over Baghdad right now because they want America to pull out. And do you know why? It's because they've already decided that they're going to partition Iraq. And half of Iraq, the western, northern portion of Iraq, is going to be called the "Iraq State of Islam," something like that. And I'm sorry, I don't have the official name, but it's meant to be the training ground for the terrorists. There's already an agreement made. They are going to get half of Iraq and that is going to be a terrorist safe haven zone where they can go ahead and bring about more terrorist attacks in the Middle East region and then to come against the United States because we are their avowed enemy.

She did not explain how she became aware of this "agreement."

In another interview, Bachmann explained her views on Iran thus: "What do we do? What I would do about that is I would put every option on the table. Every option. And make sure they never ever obtain that weapon. So what I would do is make available to Israel the ability to be able to defend herself. I would be willing to sell them the refueling tankers they need [to bomb Iran], the jet aircraft they need." In fact, Israel already has one of the most modern air forces in the world. Arrogating the power to determine what the sovereign nation of Egypt would do, she said, "We would have the ability to move Patriot ballistic missiles and Egypt's ballistic missiles in the Gulf region. We could have a blockade of the ports." The latter move, of course, constitutes a declaration of war. She continued,

Today we have no meaningful economic sanctions on Iran. As president I would need to work with our allies to make sure we have those meaningful sanctions. We need to have a war plan established at the Pentagon. Only a fool wants war, but the best way to prevent war is to be prepared for one. And we need to make sure Iran's central bank doesn't have the economic wherewithal to be able to continue to function. Iran obtains its money through oil and through the sale of oil. And if we can enlist allies to boycott those oil sales or boycott refined shipments of oil going into Iran we will go a long way to stopping that process.

On November 22, in a CNN-sponsored foreign policy debate in Washington, Bachmann claimed, "They've stated, as recently as August just before President [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad came...to the U.N. General Assembly. He said that he wanted to eradicate Israel from the face of the Earth. He has said that if he has a nuclear weapon he will use it to wipe Israel off the face of the Earth. He will use it against the United States of America."

And, during a debate sponsored by Fox News on December 15, Bachmann said, "We know without a shadow of a doubt Iran will take a nuclear weapon, they will use it to wipe our ally Israel off the face of the map. And they've stated that they will use it against the United States of America."

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich

On July 17, 2006, amid the military conflict between Israel and the Lebanese Hezbollah, Gingrich released a statement discussing the prospects for another world war:

Like you, I spent the past week viewing the events in the Middle East with growing concern. In the 13 weeks that I have been bringing you my thoughts in Winning the Future, I have shared with you directly many challenges facing us. But no challenge confronting America is greater than the one I am writing about today. And no challenge requires us to be more candid and more direct about what victory will require.... I am now firmly convinced that the world confronts a situation that is frighteningly similar to a Third World War, one every bit as serious and dangerous as the two great conflicts of the 20th Century.

The recent attacks by Hamas and Hezbollah against Israel -- with the active political, financial and military support of Iran and Syria -- are just the latest acts in this war. It is a war that pits civilization and the rule of law against the dictatorships of Iran and Syria and the terrorist groups of Hezbollah and Hamas that they support. It is also a war that pits civilized nations against Islamic terrorist groups around the world, including, most significantly (but not exclusively), the al-Qaeda network. The nature of the threat -- with Iran at the epicenter -- is at its core ideological. The threat to the United States is an ideological wing of Islam that is irreconcilable to modern civilization as we know it throughout most of the world. The United States and her allies face a long war with this irreconcilable wing of Islam.

Two months later, Gingrich said, "The American people are very prepared to believe we face extraordinary threats from a nuclear North Korea and an Iranian regime actively seeking to develop nuclear weapons. Any actions in Iraq need to be recast in terms of their impact on Iran. A weak America in Iraq will be unable to stop Iran. Stopping Iran is potentially literally a matter of life and death."

In November 2007, the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), reflecting the consensus judgment of the U.S. intelligence community's 16 agencies, on Iran's nuclear program was released; it stated that if Iran ever had a nuclear weapons program, it had ceased in 2003. In response, Gingrich declared, "A handful of highly partisan State Department bureaucrats wrote a document that is so professionally unworthy, so intellectually indefensible and so fundamentally misleading that it is damaging to our national security." The claim that the NIE was drafted by State Department employees appears to be entirely without basis.

How about sanctioning Iran? In December 2010, Gingrich wrote,

The administration should also sanction those companies already in violation of the Iran Sanctions Act, which has been on the books for almost 15 years. Penalizing one energy company would send a clear signal that Washington has a policy of zero tolerance when it comes to enabling the Iranian nuclear program.

Second, the Treasury Department should build on its designation of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a supporter of terrorist by designating major IRGC [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] entities that are dominant players in the Iranian energy sector -- sending shockwaves through Iran's energy partners that they are doing business with blacklisted U.S. entities.

Finally, the administration should provide the same kind of tangible, material and moral support to the Green Movement in Iran that President Ronald Reagan gave to the Solidarity movement in Soviet-dominated Poland during the Cold War. Releasing restrictions on the transfer of communications technology to the Green Movement would give its leadership the vital access it needs to satellite phones, satellite subscriptions and secure computer networks to evade Iranian censors.

In the CNN-sponsored foreign policy debate on November 22, Gingrich said that the United States should bomb Iran's nuclear facilities to prevent it from becoming a nuclear power "as a last recourse, and only as a step toward replacing the regime." He added, "If we were serious, we could break the Iranian regime within a year starting with cutting off the gasoline supply to Iran and then, frankly, sabotaging the only refinery they have." Iran, in fact, has many refineries.

But he has also said, "The idea that you're going to wage a bombing campaign that accurately takes out all the Iranian nuclear program, I think is a fantasy. It would be a gigantic mess, enormous collateral civilian casualties." In another debate between the Republican presidential candidates, Gingrich said, "You have to take whatever steps are necessary.... First of all, as maximum covert operations -- to block and disrupt the Iranian [nuclear] program, including taking out their scientists, including breaking up their systems; all of it covertly, all of it deniable."

Former Utah Governor and U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman

In an interview with CNN on November 16, Huntsman took an extremely hawkish position on Iran. CNN's Pierce Morgan asked him, "What is the right way to deal with Iran if they are going to flagrantly ignore any form of international community opinion on this?" Huntsman replied that war with Iran may be inevitable:

Well I think that's exactly what's going on. You can layer sanction upon sanction and I think in the end the sanctions aren't going to have much of an impact. Sanctions have already been taken to the U.N. Security Council. You can go for another round of sanctions and that probably should be tried. You can go after their state bank. You can sanction the elite. You can sanction those traveling in and out. You can tighten the noose in ways that will make life a lot more difficult from an economic standpoint. But my sense is that their ultimate aspiration is to become a nuclear power, in which case sanctions probably aren't going to get you there. And that means [it's] likely we're going to have a conversation with Israel at some point. As we approach that point it's important for the United States to remind the world what it means to be a friend and ally of the United States.

In another interview, on December 13, Huntsman went even further. CNN's Erin Burnett asked him, "Do you think at this point, unless we're going to commit, and I'm curious whether you would commit to full on military conflict with Iran, that we have to accept that they will eventually be a nuclear power? It's more important to figure out how to deal with that than to yell and scream about it happening when it is inevitable anyway."

Huntsman replied, "Well, I think they've already made the decision to go nuclear." The CIA and most experts continue to say the opposite.

Burnett then asked, "So, if push comes to shove and this is important, I'm not saying this is something you do tomorrow, but if push comes to shove, if what was between them and a nuclear weapon or there was an uncertainty, required troops invasion, you'd do it?"

Huntsman replied, "I can't live with the implications of not doing it. I can't live with the thought of what a nuclear Iran brings to the region and what they said about Israel, which is our centerpiece alliance in the region. I can't live -- I can't live with the world with a nuclear Iran. So, then, you say, what do you do? And realistically, you got to have all options on the table. You got to be prepared to use all elements of national power."

Note that the Huntsman Corp., the chemical company founded by Huntsman's father, enjoyed commercial relations with Iran for years. A Tehran-based subsidiary that was purchased when Jon Huntsman worked for the company sold polyurethane in Iran, for which it was rebuked by the group United Against Nuclear Iran, because the polymer could be used -- and the operative word is could -- in solid fuel for Iran's missiles. Never mind that Iran's petrochemical industry produces the same polymer.

Texas Congressman Ron Paul

Paul for years has consistently been opposed to war and intervention in foreign countries. He has explicitly opposed attacking Iran to prevent nuclear proliferation, or under the excuse of defending Israel. In the aforementioned Fox News-sponsored debate on December 15, he said that war-weary Americans would support his antiwar posture. "I would be running with the American people because it would be a much better policy," Paul said, stressing that there is no evidence Iran is close to obtaining a nuclear weapon. He added, "To me, the greatest danger is that we would overreact." Paul also said that the anti-Iran propaganda is similar to the run-up to the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, a war he opposed because he did not believe the misinformation that Saddam Hussein possessed stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. "That's how we got involved in the useless war in Iraq and lost so much in Iraq," Paul said.

On December 30, Paul said in a campaign appearance in Iowa that as president he would not order military attacks on Iran because "they don't threaten our national security. If some other country [presumably Israel] thought they had to go to war with them, that is their business. He reiterated that there is no proof that Iran is producing a nuclear weapon.

In another campaign speech he delivered on the same day in Atlantic, Iowa, Paul said that the sanctions imposed by the United States and its allies on Iran are "acts of war" that are likely to lead to actual military conflict. Responding to Iran's threat that it will close the Strait of Hormuz if the West does not allow it to sell its oil, Paul said that blocking the strait would be "so logical" as Iran would have no other recourse. He continued, "If the Strait of Hormuz closes, this whole financial thing could come down on our head. What would happen if oil doubled in price within a month or two? I think the solution is to do a lot less a lot sooner, and mind our own business, and we wouldn't have this threat of another war." See this amusing cartoon on the issue.

Texas Governor Rick Perry

Perry has said that his evangelical Christian faith compels him to defend Israel -- as in an article he wrote for the neoconservative Weekly Standard -- and that the United States should do anything necessary to prevent "that madman in Iran" -- presumably Ahmadinejad -- from having nuclear weapons. Perry has claimed that there are two types of Islam, one "moderate type" espoused by Saudi Arabia (in fact, the most radical Muslim extremists, such as the Salafis and the Taliban, are supported by Saudi Arabia), and a "radical type" emanating from Iran. In response to Paul, Perry said, "You don't have to vote for a candidate who will allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon to wipe Israel off the face of the earth. Because America will be next."

In an interview, ABC's Christiane Amanpour asked if a President Perry would advocate a preemptive American strike on Iran's nuclear facilities, to which he responded,

Well, here's where we find ourselves with two really bad positions. We're either going to allow this madman [Ahmadinejad] to have become in control of a nuclear device or we are going to have a nuclear strike, or excuse me, a military strike to keep that from occurring, either the Israelis unilaterally, or -- in a bilateral, or multilateral way -- with their allies.... I never would take a military option off the table when it comes to dealing with this individual.

After the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) issued its latest assessment of Iran's nuclear program in November, Perry released the following statement:

The new IAEA report is the latest indicator that the regime in Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons capability. Evidence that this includes work on a nuclear warhead design is particularly alarming -- and again puts the lie to Tehran's claim that its nuclear program is for peaceful, energy-related purposes.

President Obama's policy on Iran, based on outreach and limited sanctions, has failed. This administration has labored under the misconception that Iran's nuclear program could be negotiated away. But the plain truth revealed in the IAEA report is that despite years of negotiations, Tehran's relentless pursuit of nuclear weapons continues.

A nuclear-armed Iran would pose grave threats to not only American interests abroad, but also to our security at home. Iranian misconduct has met with little if any response from the Obama administration, and has included targeting Americans in Iraq and throughout the Middle East, supporting terrorist groups, threatening our allies, and even plotting to assassinate a foreign ambassador in Washington, D.C. This activity will only increase if Tehran obtains a nuclear weapon and feels it has impunity to act as it pleases.

Appearing on CNN on November 3, Perry was asked by anchor John King, "If that [IAEA] report says Iran is progressing, moving closer to having a nuclear weapon, there's a lot of talk in the region that Israel might take preemptive action. Would a President Perry say, 'Go ahead, Mr. Prime Minister, green light that?'"

Perry responded, "Obviously, we are going to support Israel, and I've said that we will support Israel in every way that we can, whether it's diplomatic, whether it's economic sanctions, whether it's overt or covert operations up to and including military action. We cannot afford to allow that mad man in Iran to get his hands on nuclear weapons, period."

"Even if it started a war in the region?" King asked. Perry replied, "We cannot allow that mad man to get his hands on a nuclear weapon, because we know what he would do with it."

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney

After the IAEA report's release, Romney wrote an op-ed published by the Wall Street Journal,in which he addressed the emergence of the Green Movement in the wake of the disputed Iranian presidential election of June 2009:

Here -- more than a year before the eruption of the Arab Spring -- was a spontaneous popular revolt against a regime that has been destabilizing the region, supporting terrorism around the world, killing American soldiers in Iraq, and attacking the U.S. for three decades. Yet President Obama, evidently fearful of jeopardizing any further hope of engagement, proclaimed his intention not to "meddle" as the ayatollahs unleashed a wave of terror against their own society. A proper American policy might or might not have altered the outcome; we will never know. But thanks to this shameful abdication of moral authority, any hope of toppling a vicious regime was lost, perhaps for generations. [...]

Si vis pacem, para bellum. That is a Latin phrase, but the ayatollahs will have no trouble understanding its meaning from a Romney administration: If you want peace, prepare for war.

I want peace. And if I am president, I will begin by imposing a new round of far tougher economic sanctions on Iran. I will do this together with the world if we can, unilaterally if we must. I will speak out forcefully on behalf of Iranian dissidents [no one has asked him to]. I will back up American diplomacy with a very real and very credible military option. I will restore the regular presence of aircraft carrier groups in the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf region simultaneously. I will increase military assistance to Israel and coordination with all of our allies in the region. These actions will send an unequivocal signal to Iran that the United States, acting in concert with allies, will never permit Iran to obtain nuclear weapons.

During his previous campaign for the presidency in 2008, Romney ran a TV ad called "Jihad" that appeared to conflate the interests of Iran's Shia theocratic rulers with violent nonstate Sunni actors such as al-Qaeda:

It's this century's nightmare, jihadism -- violent, radical Islamic fundamentalism. Their goal is to unite the world under a single jihadist caliphate. To do that, they must collapse freedom-loving nations like us. As president, I'll strengthen our intelligence services. Increase our military by at least 100,000. And monitor the calls al-Qaeda makes into America. And we can and will stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

"I do not believe we are not able to deal with Iran militarily," declared Romney at a forum held the previous year by the Republican Jewish Coalition. While avoiding the deployment of ground troops, he stated that he would consider "blockade, bombardment, and surgical military strikes."

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum

Santorum has called repeatedly for an attack on Iran. In response to Paul in the Fox News-sponsored debate on December 15, Santorum said of Iranians, "They have been at war with us since 1979. The IEDs [improvised explosive devices] that have killed so many soldiers [in Iraq and Afghanistan], they are manufactured in Iran." This claim has not been proved, and Santorum did not describe any evidence to support it. He continued,

Iran is not any other country. It is a country that is ruled by the equivalent of al Qaeda on top of this country. They are a radical theocracy. The principle virtue of the Islamic Republic of Iran according to President Ahmadinejad is not freedom or opportunity, it is martyrdom. The idea, Ron, that mutual-assured destruction, like the policy during the cold war with the Soviet Union, would work on Iran when their principle virtue is martyrdom, mutual-assured destruction with respect to Iran would not be any kind of idea of preventing a war, it would be an inducement to war. This is what their objective is, their objective is to in fact to create a calamity. This is what their theology teaches.

They believe that it is their mission to take on the West. They don't hate us because [of] what we do or the policies we have; they hate us because of who we are and what we believe in. And we need to make sure that they do not have a nuclear weapon, and we need to be working with the state of Israel right now. We need to use covert activities. And we need to plan a strike against their facilities and say to them that if you do not open up those facilities and close them down, we will close them down for you.

And on NBC's Meet the Press on Sunday, Santorum charged Obama with turning the United States into a "paper tiger" concerning Iran. (Note the link misidentifies the source of the interview as Fox News.) He said that as president he would issue the Islamic Republic an ultimatum to either grant observers access to its nuclear sites or "dismantle" them. If they do not comply, he said, "we will degrade those facilities through air strikes."

Copyright © 2012 Tehran Bureau

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