Republican Candidates on Iran

Annika Folkeson

       The Republican candidates for president outlined their positions on Iran during two foreign policy debates on Nov. 12 and Nov. 22, 2011. In alphabetical order, the following are excerpts of their statements on issues such as sanctions, military action, and support for the opposition.

Michele Bachmann

If you look at Iran and if you look at Pakistan and if you look at the links with Syria, because Iran is working through proxies like Syria, through Hezbollah, through Hamas, it seems that the table is being set for worldwide nuclear war against Israel. And if there's anything that we know, President Obama has been more than willing to stand with Occupy Wall Street, but he hasn't been willing to stand with Israel. Israel looks at President Obama and they do not see a friend…

Why is it that we're talking about Israel having to make a strike against Iran? It's because Iran has announced they plan to strike Israel. They've stated, as recently as August just before President 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. This isn't just an idle threat. This is a reality.

Herman Cain

The first thing that I would do is to assist the opposition movement in Iran that's trying to overthrow the regime. Our enemies are not the people of Iran, it's the regime. And a regime change is what they are trying to achieve. Secondly, we need to put economic pressure on Iran, by way of our own energy independence strategy.  By having our own energy independence strategy, we will impact the price of oil in the world markets, because Iran uses oil not only as a means of currency, but they use it as a weapon…

Secondly, we would then work to increase sanctions on Iran, along with our friends and our allies. .. I do believe that they have a nuclear weapons program and they are closer to having nuclear weapons…The only we can stop them is through economic means.

I would not entertain military opposition…There's one other thing that we could do. We could deploy our ballistic missile defense capable war ships strategically in that part of the world. We have the biggest fleet of those warships in the world. And we could use them strategically in the event that they were able to fire a ballistic missile.

On assistance for an Israeli attack on Iran: I would first make sure that [Israel] had a credible plan for success, clarity of mission and clarity of success.  Remember, when you talk about attacking Iran, it is a very mountainous region. The latest reports say that there may be 40 different locations, and I would want to make sure that we had a good idea from intelligence sources where these are located. And if Israel had a credible plan that it appeared as if they could succeed, I would support Israel, yes… But I pointed out that that is highly unlikely, given the terrain, the mountainous terrain in Iran.

Newt Gingrich

First of all, as maximum covert operations-- to block and disrupt the Iranian program including taking out their scientists, including breaking up their systems. All of it covertly, all of it deniable. Second, maximum coordination with the Israelis in a way which allows them to maximize their impact in Iran. Third, absolute strategic program comparable to what President Reagan, Pope John Paul II, and Margaret Thatcher did in the Soviet Union, of every possible aspect short of war of breaking the regime and bringing it down. And I agree entirely with Governor Romney, 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…

We ought to have a massive all-sources energy program in the United States designed to, once again, create a surplus of energy here so we could say to the Europeans pretty cheerfully, that all the various sources of oil we have in the United States, we could literally replace the Iranian oil.

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…

But if we were serious, we could break the Iranian regime, I think, within a year, starting candidly with cutting off the gasoline supply to Iran, and then, frankly, sabotaging the only refinery they have.

On support for a military strike:
Only as a last recourse and only as a step towards replacing the regime. No bombing campaign which leaves the regime in charge is going to accomplish very much in the long run. You have to seriously talk about regime replacement, not just attacking them.
Jon Huntsman
We missed the Persian spring…And we have nuclear-ization in Iran. Centrifuges spinning. At some point, they're going to have enough in the way of fissile material out of which to make a weapon. That's a certainty… Sanctions aren't going to work…because the Chinese aren't going to play ball and the Russians aren't going to play ball. And I believe Iran has already -- the mullahs have already decided they want to go nuclear.

Why? They have looked at North Korea. They've got a weapon. Nobody touches them. They look at Libya. Libya gave up their weapon in exchange for friendship with the world. Look where they are. So I say let's let history be our guide. We saw the end of the Ottoman Empire in 1919. We saw the region transform and make itself into something different. We saw changes in 1947. I think we do our national interests a disservice by jumping in too soon and taking up sides with people we don't fully understand, Islamist groups, pan-Arab groups. Our interest in the Middle East is Israel. And our interest is to ensure that Iran does not go nuclear.

Ron Paul

On a military strike against Iran: It isn't worthwhile. The only way you would do that is you would have to go through Congress. We, as commander in chief, aren't making the decision to go to war…You go to the Congress and find out if our national security is threatened. And I'm afraid what's going on right now is similar to the war propaganda that went on against Iraq. And, you know, they didn't have weapons of mass destruction.

On support for an Israeli attack on Iran: No, I wouldn't do that. But there would be good reasons because I don't expect it to happen…The Mossad leader that just retired said it would be the stupidest thing to do in the world. And it's a big argument over in Israel. They're not about to do this…Why does Israel need our help? We need to get out of their way…We don't even have a treaty with Israel. Why do we have this automatic commitment that we're going to send our kids and send our money endlessly to Israel? So I think they're quite capable of taking care of themselves.

Rick Perry

The issue that has not been raised is that this country can sanction the Iranian Central Bank right now and shut down that country's economy. And that's what this president needs to do and the American people need to stand up and force him to make that stand today…

One of the options is to have a no-fly zone over Syria at the same time you're putting those types of sanctions against Iran. And in that moment, they will understand that America is serious. This president refuses to do that, and it's another show of lack of leadership from the president.
Mitt Romney

What [President Obama] should have done is speak out when dissidents took the streets and say, "America is with you." And work on a covert basis to encourage the dissidents. Number two, he should have put in place crippling sanctions against Iran…Finally, the president should have built [a] credible threat of military action, and made it very clear that the United States of America is willing, in the final analysis, if necessary, to take military action to keep Iran from having a nuclear weapon. Look, 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…

If all else fails, if after all of the work we've done, there's nothing else we can do beside take military action, then of course you take military action. It is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon.

The right course in America is to stand up to Iran with crippling sanctions, indict Ahmadinejad for violating the Geneva -- or the Genocide Convention, put in place the kind of crippling sanctions that stop their economy. I know it's going to make gasoline more expensive. There's no price which is worth an Iranian nuclear weapon. And the right course for Israel is to show that we care about Israel, that they are our friend, we'll stick with them. If I'm president of the United States, my first trip -- my first foreign trip will be to Israel to show the world we care about that country and that region.

Rick Santorum

This is the most important national security issue that we're going to be dealing with here in this year. And that's the issue of Iran getting a nuclear weapon…I proposed exactly the things that Herman and Mitt Romney suggested, which was to give money to the rebel forces there to help the pro-democracy movement and to put tough sanctions in place.

I disagree with Newt [about] more sanctions and providing, you know, more support for the pro-democracy movement isn't going to be enough, in time…There have been scientists turning up dead in Russia and in Iran. There have been computer viruses. There have been problems at their facility. I hope that the United States has been involved with that. I hope that we have been doing everything we can covertly to make sure that that program doesn't proceed.

Annika Folkeson works for the Center for Conflict Management at the U. S. Institute of Peace.