President Obama, however, has thus far refused to impose sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank. What’s more, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says, “The United States is committed to engagement.” Engagement with the current mullahs in Tehran? Mullahs building nuclear weapons? Mullahs who tried to send terrorists to attack our nation’s capital? Mullahs who vow to annihilate the U.S. and Israel? Mullahs who have just sent thugs in to storm the British embassy in Tehran? Mullahs who are whipping up crowds to chat “Death to America! Death to Israel! Death to Britain! Death to France!“? What in the world is this administration talking about? Such nonsense would be laughable if it wasn’t so dangerous.
The danger, of course, is that by refusing to show strong, decisive leadership to neutralize the Iran nuclear threat, the Obama administration is actually increasing the chance of a major new war in the Middle East. Iran is getting closer to building operational nukes and then using them against the U.S. and Israel, or giving them to Radical Islamic terror groups. Or Israel will continue to feel isolated and threatened and effectively abandoned by the U.S. and will feel the need to launch preemptive military strikes against Iran’s nuclear program. The best chance to avoid a war is strong American leadership in using crippling economic sanctions, covert action, a real commitment to regime change, and immense support for Iran’s pro-democracy forces to overthrow the mullahs who control Tehran. Otherwise, mark my words: war is coming. We must, therefore, pray for peace while we prepare for the possibility that war will come.
Here’s a quick snapshot of the timeline of recent events:
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 effectiveon 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 lastFox 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The IAEA has released a 25-page report on Iran’s nuclear activities. After just returning from a week-long trip out of the country, I’ve finally had the opportunity to read the entire report. While its language is diplomatic and often highly-technical, the report erases all doubts that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons.
The U.N. report concludes there is “credible” evidence that:
Iran is systematically enriching nuclear fuel towards military applications.
Iran — since the late-1970s — has been building clandestine nuclear facilities to evade international detection.
Iran’s nuclear program no longer run by civilians but by the Ministry of Defense.
Iran is steadily developing nuclear warheads.
Iran is developing long-range ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear warheads against her enemies.
Iran has made preparations to test its first nuclear bomb.
Iran did not cease developing military applications for its nuclear program in 2003, as the CIA reported in its controversial National Intelligence Estimate in 2007, but rather accelerated its efforts to develop the Bomb.
The New York Times editorial page concluded that “the report is chillingly comprehensive. It says that Iran created computer models of nuclear explosions, conducted experiments on nuclear triggers and did advanced research on a warhead that could be delivered by a medium-range missile. What gives the report particular credibility is its meticulous sourcing. The agency’s director, Yukiya Amano, built a case on more than a thousand pages of documents, the assistance of more than 10 agency member states and interviews with ‘a number of individuals who were involved in relevant activities in Iran.'”
A separate news story by the New York Times noted, “The I.A.E.A. report’s detailed revelations are a fascinating role reversal from 2003, when the United States and Britain claimed Iraq was seeking to rekindle its nuclear program. In that case, the agency warned that the Bush administration’s case was weak and that some of the evidence was forged. Now, it is the normally cautious agency that is taking the lead, arguing that years of study had led it to the conclusion that, despite Iran’s denials, the country engaged in an active program to design nuclear warheads, among other technologies.”
“Contrary to the relevant resolutions of the Board of Governors and the Security Council, Iran has not suspended its [uranium] enrichment related activities in the following declared facilities, all of which are nevertheless under Agency safeguards.” (main text, p. 3)
“The Agency is still awaiting a substantive response from Iran to Agency requests for further information in relation to announcements made by Iran concerning the construction of ten new uranium enrichment facilities, the sites for five of which, according to Iran, have been decided, and the construction of one of which was to have begun by the end of the last Iranian year (20 March 2011) or the start of this Iranian year. In August 2011, Dr Abbasi was reported as having said that Iran did not need to build new enrichment facilities during the next two years….As a result of Iran’s lack of cooperation on those issues, the Agency is unable to verify and report fully on these matters.” (p. 5)
“The information indicates that Iran has carried out the following activities that are relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device…Efforts, some successful, to procure nuclear related and dual use equipment and materials by military related individuals and entities;….The acquisition of nuclear weapons development information and documentation from a clandestine nuclear supply network; Work on the development of an indigenous design of a nuclear weapon including the testing of components. While some of the activities identified in the Annex have civilian as well as military applications, others are specific to nuclear weapons.” (p. 8)
“The Agency has serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear programme. After assessing carefully and critically the extensive information available to it, the Agency finds the information to be, overall, credible. The information indicates that Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device. The information also indicates that prior to the end of 2003, these activities took place under a structured programme, and that some activities may still be ongoing.” (p. 10)
“Specifically, it was discovered that, as early as the late 1970s and early 1980s, and continuing into the 1990s and 2000s, Iran had used undeclared nuclear material for testing and experimentation in several uranium conversion, enrichment, fabrication and irradiation activities, including the separation of plutonium, at undeclared locations and facilities.” (Annex: Possible Military Dimensions To Iran’s Nuclear Programme, p. 1)
“The development of safe, fast-acting detonators, and equipment suitable for firing the detonators, is an integral part of a programme to develop an implosion type nuclear device. Included among the alleged studies documentation are a number of documents relating to the development by Iran, during the period 2002–2003, of fast functioning detonators, known as “exploding bridgewire detonators” or “EBWs” as safe alternatives to the type of detonator described for use in the nuclear device design.” (Annex, p. 8)
“The Agency has information provided by a Member State that Iran may have planned and undertaken preparatory experimentation which would be useful were Iran to carry out a test of a nuclear explosive device. In particular, the Agency has information that Iran has conducted a number of practical tests to see whether its EBW firing equipment would function satisfactorily over long distances between a firing point and a test device located down a deep shaft. Additionally, among the alleged studies documentation provided by that Member State, is a document, in Farsi, which relates directly to the logistics and safety arrangements that would be necessary for conducting a nuclear test. The Agency has been informed by a different Member State that these arrangements directly reflect those which have been used in nuclear tests conducted by nuclear-weapon States.” (Annex, p. 11)
“The alleged studies documentation contains extensive information regarding work which is alleged to have been conducted by Iran during the period 2002 to 2003 under what was known as Project 111. From that information, the project appears to have consisted of a structured and comprehensive programme of engineering studies to examine how to integrate a new spherical payload into the existing payload chamber which would be mounted in the re-entry vehicle of the Shahab 3 missile….Iran has denied conducting the engineering studies, claiming that the documentation which the Agency has is in electronic format and so could have been manipulated, and that it would have been easy to fabricate. However, the quantity of the documentation, and the scope and contents of the work covered in the documentation, are sufficiently comprehensive and complex that, in the Agency’s view, it is not likely to have been the result of forgery or fabrication. While the activities described as those of Project 111 may be relevant to the development of a non-nuclear payload, they are highly relevant to a nuclear weapon programme.” (Annex, p. 11-12)
KEY HEADLINES TO TRACK:
New poll finds 57% of Americans support an Israeli first strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities, while a majority also support a U.S. preemptive strike against Iran.
Here is my latest column on the rumors of war between Israel and Iran that are swirling in Washington, Jerusalem and Tehran, just published by National Review Online.
UPDATE: New details are emerging about Israeli preparations for a possible first strike on Iran. Aides to Netanyahu tell me no decision has been made and Israel’s policy hasn’t changed. What’s more, there is outrage in and around the Israeli government about leaks that some are calling “treasonous.” One thing is certain, events are moving quickly:
“If I had to summarize what will happen in our region, I would use two terms: instability and uncertainty,” Netanyahu told his parliamentary colleagues Monday. “The collapse of Gaddafi’s regime in Libya, the bloody incidents in Syria, the American forces leaving Iraq, the new government in Tunisia, the upcoming elections in Egypt and many other events – these are all expressions of the immense changes occurring around us. These changes can increase the instability within these countries, and the instability between countries….A nuclear Iran would pose a terrible threat on the Middle East and on the entire world. And of course, it poses a great, direct threat on us too….A security philosophy cannot rely on defense alone. It must also include offensive capabilities, which is the very foundation of deterrence. We operate and will continue to operate intensely and determinately against those who threaten the security of the State of Israel and its citizens. Our policy is guided by two main principles: the first is ‘if someone comes to kill you, rise up and kill him first,’ and the second is ‘if anyone harms us, his blood is on his own hands.'”
I’ve never heard Netanyahu discuss those two principles before — they certainly lay the moral and strategic framework for preemptive military action, both against the Hamas terrorists that are firing rockets and missiles at Israel from Gaza, and against state enemies such as Iran.
Such developments echo major plot points in my new political thriller, The Tehran Initiative, but this is not fiction. Could a major new war in the region be coming later this year, or early next? It’s too early to say, but there is little question that senior Israeli officials are now actively weighing such an option, or that the Obama administration is deeply opposed. What would a Republican president do differently that President Obama to neutralize the Iran threat? That remains to be seen as none of the GOP contenders has yet offered a major policy address focused on the Iran issue.
Meanwhile, there is a growing possibility of a major Israeli military offensive against Hamas in Gaza, too. More than three dozen rockets and missiles have been fired at southern Israel since Friday from Gaza, and Netanyahu aides say the situation has become intolerable and a “dramatic decision is nearing.”
Barak: Israel has not already decided to strike Iran — “Amidst a flurry of recent reports regarding a possible Israeli attack against Iran, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on Monday that he and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have not already decided that Israel will conduct such a strike.”
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