Rating the GOP candidates on the Iran issue.
UPDATED ON JANUARY 3, 2012: With the Iran threat growing — as evidenced by the latest IAEA report — it is critical that the Republican presidential candidates explain what they would do differently as Commander-in-Chief from President Obama to neutralize the Iranian threat and support true regime change in Tehran. In nearly every media interview I have done since the publication of my new novel, The Tehran Initiative — as well as in op-eds in the Washington Times and National Review Online — I have been calling on each of the GOP candidates to lay out specific, detailed policies and deliver major foreign policy addresses on this most critical of foreign policy and national security issues.
Remarkably, only two ever did so — Sen. Rick Santorum and Rep. Michele Bachmann.
Here is an assessment of how the candidates are doing so far:
SENATOR RICK SANTORUM — (A+)
Neutralizing the Iran threat and liberating the Iranian people are core conviction issues for Santorum and have been for two decades. Not surprisingly, then, on November 16th the former Senator became the first Republican presidential candidate to lay out a serious, detailed, principled plan to neutralize the Iran nuclear threat, encourage the Iranian people to overthrow the evil regime in Tehran, and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Israel. Santorum is clear that he will put a credible military option on the table and is willing to use force to stop Iran if all other measures fail. At the same time, he puts forward serious measures to attempt to derail nuclear program and promote regime change before war is necessary, including sanctioning Iran’s central bank and oil industry.
Santorum has produced an excellent plan, shows real leadership on the chief national security threat facing the U.S., and becomes the model for other candidates to follow.
Santorum has been far and away the best on the Iran issue from the beginning of the campaign and during all the debates. UPDATE: He was especially effective on NBC’s “Meet The Press” on Sunday, January 1, 2012. “Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum said he would use air strikes against Iran unless the country dismantled its nuclear program or allowed inspectors to verify that the work isn’t aimed at making a weapon,” reported Bloomberg News. Santorum said he would make it clear to the leaders of Iran, “You either open up those facilities, you begin to dismantle them and make them available to inspectors, or we will degrade those facilities through air strikes. Iran will not get a nuclear weapon under my watch.” In the last Fox News debate of 2011, he directly and impressively challenged Rep. Ron Paul’s dangerous policy of appeasement towards Iran. Indeed, this debate exchange is worth watching, as Paul conceded he was running to the left of President Obama on the Iranian nuclear threat and that he didn’t mind Iran getting the Bomb and certainly wouldn’t seek to stop Iran from getting the Bomb. Santorum, by contrast, noted that Iran is like no other country in the world. He noted that Mutual Assured Destruction would not work with Tehran because of their radical theology and the fact that “their principal virtue is martyrdom.” Santorum vowed to close Iran’s nuclear facilities down, one way or the other, and drew strong applause for this.
Santorum was resolute on Iran during the CBS News/National Journal debate in early November. “This is the most important national security issue, the Iranian nuke,” Santorum said. “President Bush and President Obama did not give money to the pro-democracy movement in Iran. Sanctions are not going to be enough. You need to read the IAEA report. We should be working with Israel right now. Take out the nuclear capability. We need to stop this before we have a nuclear explosion in Iran and the world changes.” Santorum gave a strong, principled stand on the issue of Iran and Radical Islam during the CNN/Heritage Foundation/AEI debate in November. “We are not fighting a war on terrorism,” Santorum said. “Terrorism is a tactic. We’re fighting a war against radical Islam. And what radical Islam is telling — all of the radical Islamist leaders are saying is that just wait America out, America is weak, they will not stand for the fight.” Santorum’s approach moved Speaker Gingrich to reply: “We need a strategy of defeating and replacing the current Iranian regime with minimum use of force. We need a strategy, as Rick Santorum was saying, of being honest about radical Islam and designing a strategy to defeat it wherever it happens to exist.” On November 23, Santorum told the Washington Post that if Iran gets nuclear weapons, “The public is going to be stunned when all hell breaks loose. They’re going to ask, ‘Why didn’t we know?’” Santorum told the Post that he would impose economic sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank and strongly support the pro-democracy forces inside Iran.]
For much of 2011, it appeared Santorum might not be able to gain political traction for his strong views, but as the year came to an end, he is suddenly gaining in Iowa, rising from 2-3% in the polls to 10%. Whether he can build on this remains to be seen. But one thing is certain: no GOP presidential candidate understands the Iran threat in the context of the broader Middle East better than Santorum. He has a first-rate track record on these issues and has been working on them for decades. Santorum served on the Senate Armed Services Committee for eight years. He was the author of the “Iran Freedom and Support Act,” which he notes “imposed real sanctions on the Iranian regime and authorized $100 million in annual funding for pro-democracy movements within Iran.” Santorum was also the author of the “Syria Accountability Act” to “combat the threat Syria posed to Israel.”
“In 2004, I first authored the Iran Freedom and Support Act (IFSA) — sweeping legislation that funded pro-democracy groups in Iran and imposed real sanctions on this regime aimed at stopping Iran’s nuclear weapons program,” Santorum noted in a recent op-ed. “At first, not a single Democrats or Republicans would join me. That changed in 2005, as it became evident of Iran’s involvement in killing our troops in the region – and I collected 60 co-sponsors. In 2006, Pres. Bush entered into negotiations with Iran – over my strong objections. I brought IFSA to the floor of the Senate for a vote making it clear to the Iranians that Congress was ready to act if the negotiations were unsuccessful. My bill faced opposition from Joe Biden and President Bush and it was narrowly defeated. A few months later, Iranian negotiations broke down and that very same bill was passed unanimously and signed by President Bush.”
Last year, Santorum invited me and several colleagues of mine to discuss the Iran threat, various Israel issues, and to compare notes about the dangerous Shia eschatology held by Iran’s current leaders. I’d always been impressed by the Senator’s conservative convictions on a range of economic and social issues, and his consistent support for Israel, but didn’t know him personally. I walked away very much encouraged during the lunch by his working knowledge of threats posed by Iran, Syria and Radical Islam.
SPEAKER NEWT GINGRICH — (A)
Gingrich has a solid working knowledge of the Iran threat and a seriousness of purpose to neutralize Iran and change the regime in Tehran. He has been a solid friend of Israel. He brings much experience and gravitas to foreign policy and national security issues, and he supported more U.S. funding for covert operations against the Iranian regime as Speaker of the House. Unfortunately, Gingrich did not speak much about the Iran threat earlier in his campaign, and in 2006, Gingrich went on record in opposition to using military force against Iran.
However, to his credit, as the Iran threat has worsened in recent years, Gingrich reevaluated the situation on the ground. In 2010, he warned that Iran was becoming like Nazi Germany in the 1930s and began toughening his stance towards the regime in Tehran. In recent weeks, with revelations about the Iran terror plot and the new IAEA report coming to light, he has spoken out clearly and forcefully about the need to bring down the regime in Tehran and his willingness to use military force against Iran, if needed. He was particularly strong in the CBS News/National Journal debate in South Carolina. “If in the end, despite all of those things, the dictatorship persists, you have to take whatever steps are necessary to break its capacity to have a nuclear weapon,” Gingrich said.
Gingrich gave another strong performance in the CNN/Heritage Foundation/AEI debate. He supported economic sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank, in sharp contrast to the Obama administration which refuses to sanction the Central Bank of Iran. He also rightly noted that the forces of Radical Islam aren’t defeated because “this [war] is not going to end in the short run, and we need to be prepared to protect ourselves from those who, if they could, would not just kill us individually, but would take out entire cities….I’ve spent years studying this stuff. You start thinking about one nuclear weapon in one American city and the scale of loss of life and you ask yourself, what should the president be capable of doing to stop that?”]
That said, the Speaker needs to put a specific, detailed Iran plan on the table and deliver a major policy address focused on how he would handle the Iran threat.
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN — (increased from A- to A when she issued her plan)
Bachmann has been clear and articulate throughout the campaign on the critical importance of neutralizing the Iran threat, and has been as unequivocally pro-Israel as Santorum and Gingrich. “With a President Bachmann, I can assure you, there would be no option in my cabinet that would be off the table,” the Congresswoman said on November 8. “I would use every possible military option there is to stop Iran from using a nuclear weapon.” Bachmann added that President Barack Obama has “allowed Iran to have the greatest luxury of all: time.”
Bachmann first visited Israel in the summer of 1974. She worked on a kibbutz near Beersheva and has traveled to Israel numerous times since then, always supporting the Jewish State as America’s strongest strategic ally in the Middle East. Bachmann is only in her third term as a Members of the House of Representatives, which does not give her the same depth of experience as Santorum or Gingrich. She is helped, however, by the fact that she sits on the House Intelligence Committee which has given her a good vantage point to gaining valuable insight and experience on foreign policy and national security issues.
That said, the Congresswoman needs to put a specific, detailed Iran plan on the table and deliver a major policy address focused on how she would handle the Iran threat.
UPDATE: On November 21, 2011, Rep. Bachmann, to her credit, delivered a strong, specific, detailed speech to the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) on her approach to neutralizing Iran. “We must accelerate our covert operations and our cyber operations in Iran, and order…the CIA director to take all means necessary to stop Iran from getting the bomb before it’s too late,” Bachmann told the audience, according to NBC News. “And the Pentagon should prepare a war plan immediately to tell us what to do to prevent Iran from gaining those nuclear weapons.” She laid a number of excellent specific policy proposals, including calling for a naval blockade of Iranian ports, increased intelligence operations against Iran, and “we need crushing economic sanctions on Iran, including on the central bank and the oil and gas industries.”
Like Sen. Santorum, she did a particularly good job in the last Fox debate of 2011 in challenging Rep. Ron Paul on his dangerous policy of appeasement towards Iran.
- Fox News Debate: Video of Bachmann challenging Ron Paul (Dec 15, 2011)
- Full text of Rep. Bachmann’s speech on Iran to the Zionist Organization of America (Nov 21, 2011)
- ABC News: Bachmann Says ‘Pentagon Should Prepare a War Plan’ for Iran (Nov 20, 2011)
- Full text of Rep. Bachmann’s recent speech on foreign policy and national security delivered aboard the U.S.S. Yorktown in Charleston, South Carolina (Nov 10, 2011)
- AP: Bachmann: Stage Is Set For [Iranian] Nuclear War Against Israel (Nov 12, 2011)
- Romney, Bachmann blast Obama for comments on Netanyahu (Nov 9, 2011)
- Boston Globe: Michele Bachmann: Force an option against Iran after alleged US-based assassination plot (October 30, 2011)
- The Hill: Bachmann blames Obama for weakness on Iran (Oct 13, 2011)
- Jerusalem Post columnist calls Bachmann speech on Israel the best pro-Israel speech “by any American presidential candidate in my life.” (June 22, 2011)
GOVERNOR MITT ROMNEY (B)
Romney doesn’t have much foreign policy or national security experience as a businessman or Governor. He didn’t speak much about the Iran issue early on in the campaign. He delivered a major foreign policy address in South Carolina in October but barely touched on Iran and gave no specifics on how he would handle the growing threat from Tehran. However, he has, to his credit, been consistently pro-Israel over the years, so far as I can tell.
That said, the Governor began speaking out more clearly on the Iran issue in the fall of 2011. He wrote a solid op-ed for the Wall Street Journal analyzing the Iran threat. During the CBS/National Journal debate, he said, “It is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon….If all else fails, if after all of the work we’ve done, there’s nothing else we could do besides take military action. Then of course you take military action.” He called for “crippling economic sanctions” against Iran and supported using covert action and supporting the dissidents in Iran who oppose the current regime. He also stated unequivocally, “One thing you can know — and that is if we reelect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon. And if we elect Mitt Romney, if you’d like me as the next president, they will not have a nuclear weapon.”
The problem is that few conservatives have confidence in Romney’s willingness or ability to base his policies on core convictions and to stick to a stated policy position when the political winds shift. He has a disturbing record of flip-flopping on core issues. How, then, would he treat Iran and Israel when the going got tough? What are his true convictions on the issue? All that remains to be seen, and such doubts lower his rating.
The Governor needs to put a specific, detailed Iran plan on the table and deliver a major policy address focused on how she would handle the Iran threat. As the year ended, he still had not done this.
ASSESSING THE OTHER GOP CANDIDATES:
- So far, Gov. Rick Perry, Gov. Jon Huntsman, and Herman Cain all merit a “D” on the Iran issue.
- Each are all staunchly pro-Israel, but Perry and Cain have little or no foreign policy experience.
- Perry has said little about how he would handle the Iran threat.
- Herman Cain, whom I like very much, demonstrated his lack of experience during the CBS News/National Journal debate when he suggested that he would not put a military option on the table with regards to Iran. That was almost as baffling as his recent — and painful — comments on Libya. [Update: Cain withdrew from the race.]
- Huntsman has a lot of foreign policy experience and has spoken of his willingness to use military force to stop Iran, yet he is also calling for the precipitous withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Afghanistan and Iraq which suggests to me that he is not serious about stopping the Iran threat.
- Rep. Ron Paul is in a league by himself — he would be a disastrous Commander-in-chief, he merits an “F” on the Iran issue for his policy of appeasement.
- UPDATES: Paul said, “If I were an Iranian, I’d like to have a nuclear weapon, too.”
- Paul would end all economic sanctions on Iran and work on building a “friendship” with the evil regime in Tehran.
- Paul says he sees no problem in Iran having nuclear weapons.
- Paul says there is “no concrete evidence” that Iran is building nuclear weapons and opposes using military action to stop Iran from getting the Bomb.
- Paul says he would cut U.S. military aid to Israel.
- Paul’s performance during the last Fox News debate of 2011 was particularly illustrative of just how out to lunch the Congressman is on the Iran issue
- Paul said that he views economic sanctions against Iran as “an act of war” and believes the sanctions should be removed.
- Paul also said that he would bring U.S. military forces home from the Middle East and Asia, despite mounting dangers from Iran and North Korea.
In no way are these intended to be endorsements. There are clearly a wide range of issues that need to be assessed, as well as character, experience, etc. That said, I hope this will be a helpful at-a-glance assessment of how the candidates are doing on the Iran issue to date.