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Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum flailed against each other through most of the Republican presidential primary in Mesa, Arizona on Wednesday night, but both assailed President Obama for not taking a more aggressive stance towards Iran.
Romney called Obama’s policy towards Iran, “his biggest failure,” and said the Iranian threat to stop the flow of oil to the west and drive up gas prices “pales in comparison” to the threat of the Iranian regime getting their hands on a nuclear weapon.
The United States should have intervened during the Green Revolution in 2009 when protesters rose up against the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Romney added. When the Iranian regime pressed ahead with efforts to produce nuclear fuel, the US should have put in place “crippling sanctions,” he said.
Santorum agreed that Obama hasn’t supported sanctions and is too timid to stand up to the Iranians. “We need a new president or we will have a cataclysmic situation,” said Santorum. He agreed that Obama should have come to the aid of the pro-democracy movement in Iran, but stumbled a bit during his tirade, calling Iran “the world’s most most prolific proliferator of terrorism.”
Both men agreed that the United States should do more to help the pro-democracy movement in Syria, although they stopped short of calling for direct military intervention. Santorum called Syria “a puppet for Iran” in the Middle East and Romney said the turmoil in Syria presented a critical time for the United States to change the balance of power in the Middle East. He said the US should consider turning to Turkey or other allies in the region to help overthrow the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Santorum stumbled again when he said that Obama had not demanded that Assad leave office. In a statement to the United Nations on February 4, Obama said Assad should step down, stop the killing of his own people, and allow the pro-democracy movement to run its course. It was the latest of many similar statements Obama has made since the protests in Syria began last year.
Newt Gingrich joined the chorus of tough talk, but added that if the United States got rid of the Environmental Protection Agency and eased restrictions on oil exploration, the country would produce so much gasoline that it could ignore Iran’s threats to stop oil shipments to the west.
Gingrich said he wouldn’t necessarily oppose a preemptive strike against Iran by the Israelis. “If you think a madman is about to get nuclear weapons and you think he is going to use those nuclear weapons, then you have an absolute moral obligation to defend the lives of your people by eliminating the capacity to get nuclear weapons,” said Gingrich. Ron Paul struck his usual contrarian pose on foreign policy, saying that the US has already overextended and nearly bankrupted itself with militarily intervention.
“There is no evidence that Iran has a nuclear weapon,” said Paul, to a chorus of cheers and jeers from the audience. And even if Iran did acquire a weapon, he continued, that’s not an excuse for immediate military action. Paul said the Soviet Union had over 30 thousand nuclear weapons, “but we still talked to them.” Eventually the Soviet Union collapsed, he continued. “It was because they bankrupted themselves.”
Paul said that al-Qaeda’s intention was to “bog down” the United States with military intervention in the Middle East, and so far, they’ve succeeded. “We’ve spent more than $4 trillion dollars over the last ten years in the Middle East,” said Paul, suggesting that if those who favor military intervention against Iran won’t listen to constitutional or moral arguments, perhaps they will listen to a financial one.
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