Three Republican candidates for president said they would go to war if Iran obtained a nuclear weapon.
Mitt Romney, one of the frontrunners and the former Massachusetts governor, Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, and Rick Santorum, a former Pennsylvania U.S. senator, each said Saturday night that a “credible threat” of war was necessary to contain Iran.
The policy under Presidents Obama and George W. Bush was to say that “nothing is off the table” without specifying a military option.
“The president should have built a credible threat of military action,” Romney said, referring to Obama.
“If we re-elect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon. And if you elect Mitt Romney, Iran will not have a nuclear weapon,” he said.
Gingrich and Santorum agreed that there should be a “credible threat” of military action.
Herman Cain, a businessman who is also a front-runner, said he would support insurgents in Iran and deploy anti-missile ships in the region, but stopped short of military action.
“I would not entertain military opposition,” he said.
U.S. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas.) also was opposed.
Not asked were Texas Gov. Rick Perry, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman.
Bachmann later accused Obama of “not standing with Israel” at a time that “the table is being set for worldwide nuclear war with Israel.”
Perry said he backed sanctions that would cut Iran’s Central Bank off from the U.S. economy – something that is currently under consideration in Congress.
Perry also said he backed cutting foreign assistance altogether and getting nations to make their case for assistance. When asked if that included Israel, he said “absolutely,” although he predicted that Israel would make a strong case and would receive substantial aid.
His campaign emailed a “clarification” to reporters immediately following the debate.
It repeated Perry’s debate remarks that “Israel is a special ally, and my bet is that we would be funding them at some substantial level” but added: “Gov. Perry recognizes Israel as a unique and vital political and economic partner for the United States in the Middle East.”
The debate, co-sponsored by CBS and National Journal, took place at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C. South Carolina is a key early primary state for Republicans.