The Iran issue — tonight’s debate winner


 The consensus takeaway from tonight’s New Hampshire debate is that Mitt Romney won, it if only because the other candidates seemed more interesting in savaging each other than the putative frontrunner.

There was another winner: The issue of Iran.

Iran got more mentions than any other foreign policy issue — 24 to China’s 20.

And China featured only because it seems to be Jon Huntsman’s overweening theme — and because tonight, Romney lashed back at him for it.

The nuclear Muslim country besieged by Islamist forces and edging closer to collapse — Pakistan — got 16 mentions, most in passing.


Rick Santorum said Iran is the "most pressing issue today" and said he’s spent his political exile lecturing on Iran, among other issues. Rick Perry wants to go back into Iraq to keep Iran from taking over. Newt Gingrich thinks Iran wants to close the Strait of Hormuz. Ron Paul doesn’t want Iran to get a nuclear weapon, but thinks there are people in Washington who want to bomb Iran.

And Romney, as he did with his Iowa valedictory speech, used Iran as an example of what he suggests is be President Obama’s fecklessness. 

He learned on the job being president of the United States and he has made one error after another related to foreign policy, the most serious of which relates to Iran. We have a nation, which is intent on becoming nuclear. Iran has pursued their — their ambition without having crippling sanctions against them. The president was silent when over a million voices took to the streets in Iran. Voices he should have stood up for and said, we’re supporting you. And he’s — and he’s failed to put together a plan to show Iran that we have the capacity to remove them militarily from their plans to have nuclear weaponry.

"One error after another" would seem to sharply contradict Romney’s own campaign website, which says Obama deserves "credit" for his Iran policy — but more on that in a minute. First, the "crippling sanctions."

As I’ve pointed out, sanctions imposed and facilitated by the Obama administration are having an impact. 

Is it a "crippling" impact? It’s a subjective term, and could use more definition from Romney.

How do the sanctions get to "crippling" beyond the rial losing a third of its value, merchants saying they are "desperate," moneychangers refusing to sell dollars and truck drivers staying at home because transporting goods just doesn’t pay?

A case could conceivably be made that the sanctions, as they stand, are not sufficiently effective — but we need to see real projections of the impact of additional sanctions for that case to be made.

And the follow: What does "crippling" achieve?

What is the formula that correlates the intensification of sanctions to a regime abandoning plans for nuclear weaponry?

Romney’s campaign, which has earned kudos for posting detailed programs, doesn’t exactly help. Check out the 26 pages (pdf) on foreign policy.

The two paragraphs on Iran sanctions not only credit Obama for sanctions he has already imposed — an acknowledgment of a strategy that would seem to belie the fecklessness Romney alleges on the stump — they pretty much describe the Obama administration’s current strategy of garnering international support toward cutting off Iran’s Central Bank and petroleum sector.

This is not disingenuous on Romney’s part — the paper was written Oct. 7, before the strategy emerged.

But maybe it’s time for Romney to update his campaign website — or his rhetoric.

Here are the grafs:

Implement a Fifth Round of Tougher Sanctions: 

Sanctions are not ends in themselves. They are intended to persuade Iran to change course and abandon its nuclear program. President Obama deserves credit for pushing for a fourth round of international sanctions on Iran early in his term, just as before him President Bush deserved credit for the three previous rounds. But time has shown that existing sanctions have not led the ayatollahs to abandon their nuclear aspirations. We therefore need to ratchet up our pressure on Iran with a fifth round of sanctions targeted at the financial resources that underpin the Iranian regime and its Revolutionary Guard Corps, focusing on restrictions on the Central Bank of Iran, as well as other financial institutions. We should place sanctions on all business activities of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which include much  of Iran’s petroleum industry. To stanch the flow of the petroleum commerce that supports the Iranian regime, we should pursue sanctions on firms that transport such products to and from Iran. 

Ideally, these sanctions would be implemented through the U.N. Security Council, but persuading Russia and China to go along might prove impossible. In the absence of a U.N. imprimatur, the United States should be ready to take action in conjunction with as many willing governments as possible. And if necessary, we should be prepared to act on our own. To that end, Mitt Romney will step up enforcement of existing U.S. laws that bar commerce with Iran, such as the exportation of refined petroleum products to Iran.

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