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The Republican presidential candidates had their last debate before the January 3 Iowa caucus last night and surprisingly, there was not a single confrontation between frontrunners Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney. Instead, Ron Paul stole the show with his assertion that there is “no evidence” that Iran is seeking a nuclear device, sparking a furious back-and-forth with Michele Bachmann and, to a lesser degree, Rick Santorum.
Ron Paul was asked about his position in favor of lifting sanctions on Iran. He compared Iran to the Soviet Union, arguing in favor of deterrence and complained that “war propaganda” was falsely characterizing Iran as a threat. He commended President Obama for backing off of tougher sanctions on Iran, saying that they would hurt Europe. He also claimed that the U.S. was provoking Iran by surrounding it with military bases and by bombing Libya.
Rick Santorum was the first to respond. He said that the Iranian regime is the equivalent of Al-Qaeda and that it honors “martyrdom.” Mutually Assured Destruction is an incentive, not a deterrent, Santorum explained. He won applause by suggesting that the U.S. should tell Iran that if its nuclear sites are not shut down, then “we will close the nuclear facilities for you.”
Michele Bachmann took on Ron Paul with more fury. She first slammed President Obama for the withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Iraq, noting that it gives Iran a bridge to the Mediterranean Sea through Syria. She then said that she has “never heard a more dangerous” statement than what Ron Paul said. She pointed out that the Iranian constitution mandates jihad and predicted that Iran would use its nuclear weapons on Israel and the U.S.
Ron Paul accused his rivals of wanting to declare war on 1.2 billion Muslims and said that presidential “overreaction” is a greater threat than Iran. He disagreed that the terrorists target the West for its way of life, claiming that Sweden and Switzerland are not targeted (that is false). He criticized President Obama for flying the stealth drone over Iran. Apparently, even overhead surveillance is too aggressive for Ron Paul.
Bachmann rebutted by pointing to the incriminating IAEA report showing that Iran is indeed working on a nuclear weapon and could be only months away from getting one. Ron Paul said she was wrong and that no U.N. report states that. He claimed that the report was intended to make you believe Iran was guilty, but that “no evidence” was actually provided. Ron Paul was mostly booed by the crowd.
The second big clash came between Bachmann and Gingrich. She criticized him for taking money from mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, claiming that he was paid to influence Republican officials to “keep the scam going.” She received moderate applause for the line. He said that she needed facts to back up her “wild allegations” and that his position was never influenced by money. Gingrich pledged to “break up” Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac if elected.
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