Republican Party leaders in Congress and ideologically-allied think tanks struck a hawkish tone immediately after the revelation of an alleged Iranian-backed plot to assassinate diplomats in Washington. The Republican presidential candidates — with the exception of Mitt Romney who has kept quiet on the matter — followed suit with standard, and sometimes bizarre, right-wing bellicose rhetoric. Here’s a quick rundown:
Cain said he would have prevented Iran from considering such a plot with missile defense systems:
I would have done something earlier such that it probably would have encouraged them not to do something like this… We could place these Aegis ballistic missile defense systems in international water in that part of the world.
Similarly to Cain, Bachmann said she would have kept Iran high on the foreign policy agenda:
Well if I was president, I wouldn’t have taken my eye off the number one issue in the Middle East which is Iran obtaining nuclear weapons.… So the president unfortunately sent signals of weakness and focused on Israel building apartments on their own land as opposed to Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Asked directly about a military strike on Iran, Bachmann said that her position on the House Intelligence Committee required that she “be a certain amount of circumspect about the comments that I make about this.”
Perry seized on the alleged plot’s focus on getting help from Mexican drug cartels to carry out the assassination. The AP reported that Perry said the plot was “business as usual” for Iran before shifting to border security. “We cannot have national security until we have border security,” he said. He called for an increased troop presence and more security fences on the U.S.-Mexico border, as well as the use of unmanned surveillance vehicles.
Huntsman, who’s been hawkish on Iran lately, called for the U.S. to impose more sanctions on Iran, hinting at a proposal being pushed by Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) to sanction Iran’s central bank and collapse its currency. Huntsman said the U.S. should act unilaterally on sanctions:
[W]e have to make sure that people know that this is a time for American leadership. And we need to ratchet down those sanctions, those economic sanctions very, very aggressively. We ought to be targeting the Iran central bank.
Gingrich told Fox News that he would implement a program aimed at regime change by isolating the Islamic Republic’s government, saying he’d deploy resources to dissident groups and run extensive propaganda operations:
We should be actively funding every dissident group in Iran.… You have to do what Reagan, Thatcher and Pope John Paul II were doing [with the Soviet Union]. They were bringing pressure to bear from every angle. Psychological pressure; information pressure; economic pressure; helping dissidents organize; providing them resources, developing, for example, a Radio Free Iran, a Television Free Iran, an Internet Free Iran.
The former Massachusetts governor hasn’t said much about the alleged assassination plot, but he did talk about Iran in his recent foreign policy address. In that speech, he struck a hawkish posture toward Iran, not far off from where many of his advisers stand, including one who advocates for a controversial dissident group considered terrorists by the U.S.
Some of the concrete proposals seem like they have little or nothing to do with the alleged assassination plot. And programs aimed at sanctions and regime change are, as we’ve seen in the past three decades of U.S.-Iran relations, tough to implement in an effective way. Iran already faces tough sanctions and U.S.-sponsored Radio Farda and VOA Persian (TV) already exist. While the Republican presidential candidates are using this incident to attack Obama’s Iran policy, they don’t seem to be proposing anything new and concrete that could actually have an impact.