On the stump in South Carolina in 2007, Republican presidential candidate John McCain responded to a question about foreign policy with a glib remix of a Beach Boys classic. "Bomb bomb bomb/Bomb bomb Iran," sang the Arizona senator, when asked about the proper U.S. posture towards Tehran, though he later said he was just joking. Five years later, most of the GOP contenders for Barack Obama's job are singing McCain's tune, albeit with asterisks. The following is an alphabetical guide to the Iran policies of the 2012 field, including President Obama, complete with campaign-trail soundbites. See if you can pick out the one Republican challenger not singing in harmony.
Research by Laura Reddy.
Does Iran Have Nukes? Gingrich says that Iran's nuclear weapons production facilities are hidden underground. That makes bombing them hard. "The idea that you're going to wage a bombing campaign that accurately takes out all of the Iranian nuclear program," said Gingrich, "I think is a fantasy."
Bomb Iran? It's complicated. Gingrich supports regime change, and even suggests that he could topple the regime without military action in a year. "We're going to replace their regime, ideally non-militarily." If necessary, "as a last recourse," he supports military action to effect regime change. Without a change in Iran's government, however, he doesn't believe that bombing would do anything but delay Iran's nuclear weapons production.
Sanctions? Supported sanctioning Iran's central bank, says the U.S. should fund "every dissident group" in Iran, and "overtly sabotage" the regime. Notably, Gingrich wants to kill Iranian nuclear scientists. He supports "maximum covert operations to block and disrupt the Iranian [nuclear] program, including taking out their scientists, including breaking up their systems, all of it covertly, all of it deniable."
President Obama: In 2010, Gingrich called Iran's nuclear aspirations the most critical national security imperative facing the Obama administration, and accused the president of making matters worse through "naïve" and "utopian" negotiations. "There are a number of ways to be smart about Iran," said Gingrich during a November 2011 debate, "and there are also a few ways to be dumb, and the administration has skipped all the ways to be smart."
Quotable: "I think the world needs to understand, Iran is not going to get a nuclear weapon. All the world can decide is whether they help us peacefully stop it or they force us to use violence, but Iran is not going to get a nuclear weapon."
Does Iran Have Nukes? "I think they've already made the decision to go nuclear," said Huntsman, who has called Iran's nuclear ambitions "the transcendent issue of this decade" in U.S. foreign policy. "What do you do when Iran all of a sudden develops a weapon of mass destruction over the near year to year and a half? …Now, if ever there was a reason to consider using U.S. force, it would be in pursuit of situations like that."
Bomb Iran? Both Israel and the U.S. will have to consider the military option, because sanctions will not suffice. "Realistically, you've got to have all options on the table. You've got to be prepared to use all elements of national power."
Sanctions? "You can layer sanction upon sanction and I think in the end the sanctions aren't going to have much of an impact. Sanctions have already been taken to the U.N. Security Council. You can go for another round of sanctions and that probably should be tried. You can go after their state bank. You can sanction the elite. You can sanction those traveling in and out. You can tighten the noose in ways that will make life a lot more difficult from an economic standpoint. But my sense is that their ultimate aspiration is to become a nuclear power, in which case sanctions probably aren't going to get you there. And that means [it's] likely we're going to have a conversation with Israel at some point."
President Obama: Huntsman says that Obama's policies have "weakened" the U.S. internationally and has said Obama has "failed miserably" as president. He has been more measured than other candidates in criticizing the president, however, since Obama appointed Huntsman ambassador to China. Huntsman resigned from the post in April 2011 to seek the presidency.
Quotable: "I can't live with the thought of what a nuclear Iran brings to the region and what they said about Israel, which is our centerpiece alliance in the region. I can't live -- I can't live in the world with a nuclear Iran."
Does Iran Have Nukes? As a presidential candidate, Obama said, "I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon." Under his administration, the U.S. is believed, with the help of allies, to be waging a covert war with Iran to frustrate its nuclear ambitions. A computer virus called Stuxnet was found inside the Iranian nuclear program's computers in 2010, and may have slowed down uranium enrichment. Scientists associated with Iran's nuclear weapons program and missile program continue to die under mysterious circumstances. The Iranian government blames the U.S., the U.K. and Israel for the virus and the mysterious deaths, and displayed what it said was a U.S. stealth drone that it brought down over Iranian airspace. The U.S. denies any involvement in the murders of scientists, and says that it lost a drone over eastern Afghanistan.
Bomb Iran? As a presidential candidate, Obama said that if elected, he would begin talks with Iran. "In confronting these threats, I will not take the military option off the table. But our first measure must be sustained, direct and aggressive diplomacy." He also said that he would meet with the Iranians "if and only if it can advance the interest of the United States." Said Obama, "I will always keep the threat of military action on the table to defend our security and our ally, Israel. Do not be confused."
Sanctions? Extended existing sanctions against Iran, pushed for more sanctions in 2010. On Dec. 16, 2011, he said "We have imposed the most comprehensive and hardest-hitting sanctions that the Iranian regime has ever faced." On Dec. 31, the president signed sanctions against Iran's Central Bank and financial sector, a measure that had been pushed by Senate Republicans and touted on the campaign trail by a number of the GOP presidential contenders. The White House had questioned requirements that the U.S. punish foreign firms purchasing Iranian oil, because of possible impact on oil prices. An administration official said that the sanctions would be imposed "in a timely way and phased way to avoid repercussions to the oil market, and [to] make sure the revenues to Iran are reduced."
The Republicans: "Is this an easy issue?" said Obama in November 2011. "No. Anyone who claims that it is is either politicking or doesn't know what they're talking about." In December, he said "I think it's very important to remember, particularly given some of the political noise out there, that this administration has systematically imposed the toughest sanctions [on Iran] ever."
Quotable: Likes the words "options" and "table." "We are not taking any options off the table. Iran with nuclear weapons would pose a threat not only to the region but also to the United States," said Obama in November 2011.
Does Iran Have Nukes? Maybe not. Paul says there is no proof that Iran is producing a nuclear weapon. "You know what I really fear? It's another Iraq coming. It's war propaganda going on. To me, the greatest danger is that we will have a president that will overreact.
Bomb Iran? "Why do we have to bomb so many countries? Why are we [having] 900 bases in 130 countries and we're totally bankrupt? . . . We need a strong national defense . . . and we need to only go to war with a declaration of war."
Sanctions? Paul has called sanctions against Iran an "act of war" that could damage the global economy by impeding the flow of oil. "I think they solution is to do a lot less a lot sooner, and mind our own business, and we wouldn't have this threat of another war."
President Obama: Paul opposes sanctions against Iran. Obama signed a fresh round of sanctions into law on Dec. 31. Paul had criticized the Bush administration for trying to "scare" the public into supporting an attack on Iran with "war propaganda," and said then that he believed the U.S. was moving closer to an attack on Iran. His most publicized attack on Obama administration foreign policy is his opposition to the assassination of Yemeni-American cleric Anwar Awlaki, who was killed by CIA drone strike, as unconstitutional.
Quotable: "if we lived through the Cold War, which we did, with 30,000 missiles pointed at us, we ought to really sit back and think, and not jump the gun. . . . That's how we got involved in the useless war in Iraq and lost so much."
Does Iran Have Nukes? After the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency released a report in November on the Iranian nuke program, Perry released a statement calling it "the latest indicator that the regime in Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons capability. Evidence that this includes work on a nuclear warhead design is particularly alarming -- and again puts the lie to Tehran's claim that its nuclear program is for peaceful, energy-related purposes."
Bomb Iran? During a November interview, Christiane Amanpour of ABC News pushed the Texas governor for a yes or no answer on whether he would support a preemptive U.S. strike on Iranian nuclear facilities. "Well, here's where we find ourselves with two really bad-- positions. We're either going to allow this madman to have become in control of a nuclear device or we are going to have a nuclear strike, or excuse me, a military strike, to keep that from occurring, either the Israelis unilaterally, or in a bi-lateral or multi-lateral way with their allies." By madman, Perry presumably meant Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. When Amanpour asked about a unilateral U.S. strike, Perry said, "I never would take a military option off the table when it comes to dealing with this individual."
Sanctions? Supported sanctioning the Iranian Central Bank, which he said would shut down the Iranian economy.
President Obama: Has said that "Iranian misconduct has met with little if any response from the Obama administration," but also gave Ron Paul a sharp elbow in Iowa right before the caucuses. "You don't have to vote for a candidate who will allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon to wipe Israel off the face of the earth. Because America will be next."
Quotable: Likes to say "madman" or "this individual" instead of risking "Mahmoud Ahmadinejad," as in, "We cannot afford to allow that madman in Iran to get his hands on nuclear weapons, period."
Does Iran Have Nukes? "Iran is making rapid headway toward its goal of obtaining nuclear weapons," said Romney. "The greatest danger that America faces and the world faces is a nuclear Iran."
Bomb Iran? 'Ultimately, regime change is what's going to be necessary," says Romney, who believes both "covert and overt" actions should be used to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons. He said the U.S. should develop military plans, though he hoped they were never put into effect. "But the Iranians will understand that we have prepared credible military options, that they'll know there is a consequence of becoming nuclear."
Sanctions? Romney says that as president he would "begin by imposing a new round of far tougher economic sanctions on Iran," and would "back up American diplomacy with a very real and very credible military option," including an increased U.S. Navy presence.
President Obama: Romney blames the president for missing an opportunity with the 2009 popular uprising that followed Iran's dubious elections. "Here – more than a year before the eruption of the Arab Spring – was a spontaneous popular revolt against a regime that has been destabilizing the region, supporting terrorism around the world, killing American soldiers in Iraq, and attacking the U.S. for three decades. Yet President Obama, evidently fearful of jeopardizing any further hope of engagement, proclaimed his intention not to 'meddle' as the ayatollahs unleashed a wave of terror against their own society."
Quotable: "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." Romney also knows Latin. "Si vis pacem, para bellum. "That is a Latin phrase, but the ayatollahs will have no trouble understanding its meaning from a Romney administration. If you want peace, prepare for war."
Does Iran Have Nukes? Santorum says Iran "is in the process of developing nuclear weapons." He also says he's happy whenever Iranian nuclear scientists turn up dead. "I think that's a wonderful thing, candidly," said Santorum in October. He believes that there is no such thing as mutual assured destruction, which prevented a U.S.-Soviet exchange of nuclear strikes during the Cold War, when dealing with the Iranian regime and nuclear weapons. According to Santorum, the Islamists in charge of the country seek martyrdom. "This is what they hope for. Because it will deliver them to their 72 virgins."
Bomb Iran? "Yes, that's the plan," said Santorum, when asked if he would order air strikes on Iran if they were going to obtain nuclear weapons. The conservative dark horse who came within eight votes of winning Iowa from Mitt Romney is the most bellicose of the GOP contenders when it comes to Iran. In an interview with Glenn Beck, he said Iran's regime was worse than al Qaeda, and that an attack on Iran would prevent war.
Sanctions? Santorum would implement "the toughest sanctions to date" on Iran.
President Obama: Santorum has accused Obama of turning the U.S. into a "paper tiger." "President Obama referred to [Iran] as a little country in the Middle East," Santorum told the Republican Jewish Coalition. "Ladies and gentlemen, it's not a little country, it's a serious threat to the future of our country." Like Romney, he blames Obama for failing to capitalize on Iran's Green Revolution in 2009 to effect regime change.
Quotable: "We need to make sure that they do not have a nuclear weapon, and we need to be working with the state of Israel right now. We need to use covert activities. And we need to plan a strike against their facilities and say to them that if you do not open up those facilities and close them down, we will close them down for you."