With Iowa’s caucuses set for tonight, Republican hopefuls are doubling down on their rhetoric on the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear ambitions in an apparent effort to distance themselves from GOP candidate Ron Paul.
Front-runner Mitt Romney, dark horse Michele Bachmann, and the late-surging Rick Santorum all promised a readiness to launch military strikes on Iran if sanctions failed to stifle the country’s alleged nuclear program.
Their threats are in stark contrast to the position of Paul, who is close to the lead in most Iowa polls. Paul opposes a military strike on Iran, telling voters January 30 that the Iranians “don’t threaten our national security.”
“The reason that they’re talking about it now is that the vast majority of Republican primary voters and caucus voters are very passionate about this issue,” Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi of The Israel Project told the Forward. “It’s become a real litmus test and a real values tests, and there is real difference between the candidates.”
On NBC’s Meet the Press on January 1 , Santorum said that if he were elected and Iran failed to open its nuclear facilities, he would “degrade those facilities through airstrikes and make it very public that we are doing that.”
Bachmann told CBS News on January 2 that Paul “has no problem with Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon.” Bachmann went on to say that she would launch a blockade and deploy missile systems against Iran if she were president.
Romney called Iran “the greatest danger that America faces” on December 31.
The GOP candidates may be seeking to defuse fallout from their declarations that they would support Paul in the unlikely event he became the nominee, despite his isolationist foreign policy positions.
The threats came the same weekend that President Obama signed a bill authorizing harsh sanctions against Iran, focusing on the country’s central bank.
Josh Nathan-Kazis is a staff writer for the Forward. He covers charities and politics, and writes investigations and longform.