In GOP Debate, Iran Takes Center Stage

Ryan Mauro is a fellow with the Clarionproject.org, the founder of WorldThreats.com and a frequent national security analyst for Fox News Channel. He can be contacted at ryanmauro1986@gmail.com.


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Most of the Republican presidential candidates called for supporting the Iranian opposition and military action if necessary to stop a nuclear-armed Iran during Saturday’s debate on national security and foreign policy. The candidates were mostly united on Iran, while there were differences on foreign aid to Pakistan, withdrawing forces from Afghanistan and a possible trade war with China.

Herman Cain gave an excellent answer about Iran in the opening of the debate. He called for energy independence, supporting the Iranian opposition and deploying Aegis warships with anti-ballistic missile capabilities in the Middle East. However, he stumbled throughout the rest of the debate and offered general answers with few specifics. When asked if Pakistan is a friend or foe, he said “We don’t know.”

Cain’s worst moment was when he was asked about torture. He nervously looked at the camera and after a long delay, said he doesn’t believe in torture but would let military commanders decide how torture is defined. He also struggled with an answer about knowing when to overrule advisors by saying he’d have the right advisors around him. He criticized Obama’s handling of the Arab Spring, specifically the call on Yemeni President Saleh to step down.

Mitt Romney performed well. He said that Iran will get nuclear weapons if President Obama is re-elected and that we must support “insurgents” pursuing regime change, enact crippling sanctions and make a credible threat of military action. He said that the U.S. needs to work with Turkey and Saudi Arabia to pressure Syrian President Assad, but as I’ve written, Turkey is favoring the Islamists among the Syrian opposition and Saudi Arabia would do the same.

Romney gave the best answers on China. He said he’d label China as a currency manipulator and report it to the World Trade Organization. When criticized for advocating a trade war, he responded, “We’re already in a trade war.”  He was tough on Obama over the war in Afghanistan, but the policy he advocated was very similar. He endorsed Obama’s timeline to bring all forces home by 2014, but said it was wrong to bring home the additional troops sent as part of the “surge” in September. Instead, he’d bring them home in December—a mere three months difference.

Newt Gingrich had an excellent night. He said that there are lots of smart ways to pressure Iran and relatively few dumb ways, and the Obama Administration skipped past the smart ways. He said he’d “maximize covert operations”  to kill nuclear scientists, damage their nuclear systems and do everything possible short of war to bring about regime change. He was the sole candidate to make regime change in Iran his stated objective, saying he’d adopt the successful strategy Reagan used against the Soviet Union.

He won a huge applause when he warned about the Arab Spring becoming an “Anti-Christian Spring” and said Christian minorities need to be protected. He said more should be done to undermine the Assad regime, and criticized the Obama Administration for betraying Egyptian President Mubarak, who he praised as a fantastic ally. He argued that the war in Afghanistan will never succeed unless Pakistan and Iran are addressed.

Gingrich’s best moment was when he forcefully responded to a moderator by saying that someone who wages war on America like Anwar al-Awlaki is an enemy combatant and joining a terrorist group is an act of war. “In war, you kill people who are trying to kill you,” he explained. The audience went wild.

Ron Paul was predictable. The comment that brought the most positive reaction was when he lashed out at supporters of waterboarding, torture and the assassination of al-Awlaki. He expressed his opposition to an attack on Iran to prevent it from building nuclear weapons and downplayed the threat from Iran, saying the hysteria reminded him of the propaganda in the run-up to the war in Iraq.

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  • reasonableview

    The debate was especially interesting because there is no Republican orthodoxy on foreign policy, as there is on taxing and spending, so the debate was full of contrasting opinions. Rick Perry brought a personality full of passion and humor, while Herman Cain left his at home.

    Newt Gingrich was the center of the party. The media will start to trot out Newt's baggage in an attempt to taunt him into a response. Should be interesting. http://bit.ly/vVRl4t

  • StephenD

    Reason, you're right about them I think, in that they'll go after Newt's baggage. I would hope his team has all they need to compare to Obama. I can see it now,

    Inquiring Reporter: Mr. Gingrich, you have been associated with extra-marital affairs culminating in divorce.

    Newt: None of my associations were with the Weather Underground, Black Panthers or Communists.

    Kind of pales in comparison doesn’t it?

  • ObamaYoMoma

    First of all, the rules of the CBS debate were utterly ridiculous as most candidates' answers were cut off midstream. So all we heard were a series of half sound bites.

    Anyway, no surprises as we learned that none of the candidates for President really understand what Islam actually is and consequently the nature of the threat it really presents. For instance, all of the candidates don't understand that our two misguided nation-building missions in Iraq and Afghanistan were the two biggest strategic blunders ever in US history and couldn't have been more fantasy based and counterproductive. As both Iraq and Afghanistan, per the dictates of Islam, will remain our eternal enemies no matter how many trillions of dollars we waste over there or American troop lives' we stupidly sacrifice.

    Anyway, we need to drop the misnamed “War on Terror” and institute in its place a policy of containing the spread and expansion of Islam, as Harry S Truman previously did with respect to containing the spread and expansion of Communism. As Islam is a form of totalitarianism very similar to Communism far more than it is a religion.

    Thus, the first thing we need to do in accordance with our newly reconfigured strategy is to pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan ASAP and to thoroughly understand why those two nation building missions were totally fantasy-based and exceedingly counterproductive. In other words, we must also banish multiculturalism from the debate and understand that studying our enemies is no longer politically incorrect.

    The next thing we must do is abolish Islam and ban and reverse mass Muslim immigration with all of its excess baggage ASAP, as Muslims never ever migrate to the West or anywhere else for that matter to assimilate and integrate but instead to eventually subjugate and dominate via the imposition of Sharia to make Islam supreme via demographic conquest.

    The next phase is the elimination of the most imminent threats currently plaguing the world, which would consist of eradicating the ruling Mullah regime of Iran and their nuclear weapons program. Followed by either confiscating or destroying the Pakistani nuclear weapons arsenal and nuclear weapons program. As Muslims under any circumstances must never be allowed to possess nuclear weapons.

    Subsequently, we need to also seize the Mideast oilfields and confiscate the immense unearned oil wealth of the Saudis and the Gulf State Emirs, otherwise those resources will be used per the dictates of Islam to fight and wage jihad against non-Muslim unbelievers perpetually forever.

    Finally, we must isolate the Islamic world from the rest of the world to force the Islamic world into abject crushing poverty, as a poverty stricken society is a society that is incapable of fighting and waging jihad, and the isolation of the Islamic world from the rest of the world will ensure that the Islamic world devolves into abject crushing poverty, since the Islamic world is incapable of producing anything on its own other than jihad, murder, rape, mayhem, and tons and tons of misery. Then we should let them stew in their own Islamic paradise in abject crushing poverty for a few generations until Islam as a force becomes completely discredited.

  • NotaBene

    The first rule about covert operations is that you don't talk about covert operations, Newt you flaming idiot.

    • Stephen_Brady

      It doesn't matter. The enemy knows that we carry on covert operations, and no matter what they do, such operations have the capability to penetrate the most stringent security measures. Just the threat of covert operations makes an enemy over-react and become careless. I realize that this sounds counterintuitive, but it works.

  • mrbean

    For the west, an attack on Iran that destroyed its nuclear program and regime is long overdue. The purpose of such a strike would be to end the mounting threat from Iran, which has been waging war on the West for decades, and is now seeking even more powerful weapons. Retaliating against Iran doesn't mean embarking on an Iraq-like crusade to bring the vote to Iranians; instead, it means using military force to make the regime non-threatening–for the sake of defending American lives.

    Diplomatic attempts to persuade Iran to give up its quest for nuclear bombs have been going on for years, and produced no results other than to buy time for Iran's nuclear program and confer on that hostile and tyrannical regime unearned legitimacy as a peace-seeking nation. Iran's leaders are committed to a global Jihad against Western civilization; no negotiations are possible with those who seek its destruction. The West's only moral choice is to defend itself from this deadly threat.

  • BLJ

    You know what would be nice? If the media went after OBAMA'S BAGGAGE. It would fill up the baggage hold on a 767.

    Gingrich (and maybe Romney) are the two Repubs who would crucify the Chosen One in any type of "debate". I would love to see Newt take him on in a Lincoln-Douglas style one. It would be an early KO.

    Diplomacy has not and will never work with the Iranians. They are hell bent in their desire to destroy Israel and Western civilization. No words, sanctions or threats will stop them. Only force will work.

    Getting the Islamic enabler out of the WH is step #1.

  • Herman Caintonette

    You folks should stop thinking with your Cheneys and engage your brains.

    What happens if Israel attacks Iran? Iran closes the Strait of Hormuz. Pakistan and Iraq — if any country has a valid grudge against us, it is Iraq — join in on the Iranian side, and we already know that Afghanistan will follow suit. 75,000 of our sons, trapped like rats! And you can bet the house that the ChiComs will side with the Islamists.

    There is no positive outcome for us that can possibly come from that course of action.

    • BLJ

      It might be time to get rid of a few nukes. If you know what I mean.