On August 6, Americans tuned in to watch the Republican contenders for the presidency in 2016 have their first debate hosted by Fox News. The only things all the candidates agreed upon were nixing the Iran deal, defeating ISIS, and supporting Israel.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who was very understated during the majority of the debate, was the only speaker who laid out a whole plan as to what he would do with the Iran nuclear agreement if he were elected in 2016.
“You terminate the deal on day one, you reinstate the sanctions put on with Congress, and you convince our allies to do the same,” Walker answered, when asked if he stood by his promise to “tear up the deal” on his first day in office.
Libertarian-leaning candidate Senator Rand Paul from Kentucky had a harder time answering foreign policy questions, as he tried to reconcile his opinions with those that are more popular with the GOP base.
“I opposed [the deal] and will vote against it,” Paul asserted. He argued that as “a Reagan conservative,” he does not oppose negotiations on principle, but said that he only “believes in negotiating from a position of strength.
“I don’t think the president negotiated from a position of strength, but I don’t discount negotiations,” he explained.
“Obama gave up too much too early. If there’s going to be a deal, you have to believe that the Iranians are going to comply,” he added, saying that Secretary of State John Kerry told him that he did not trust Tehran. “I would have never released sanctions before there’s consistent evidence of compliance.”
Paul was the only candidate who did not say that he would kill the Iran nuclear deal.
Later, Paul was also pressed on his previous comments from 2010 where he said that he supported cutting foreign aid to Israel, a position that is extremely unpopular with some Republicans, especially with the well-mobilized evangelical Christian base.
Paul said that his criticism did not come from an opposition to Israel, but instead was due to the growing national debt that was financed by borrowing money from China.
“Israel is a great ally and this is no particular animus to Israel, but you don’t borrow money to give to someone else,” Paul explained.
“We shouldn’t send money to countries who burn our flag, Israel is not one of them,” Paul added, and said that if the US were to have a budgetary surplus, he would not be against giving foreign aid to Israel.
Aside from Paul’s clarification, most of the views expressed about foreign policy, especially on the Iran nuclear agreement, echoed each other.
Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee also strongly complained about the Iran deal; however, his rhetoric was very toned down from previous statements where he implied that President Barack Obama was making it easier for a possible second Holocaust through the Iran nuclear deal.
“Reagan said ‘Trust, but verify.’ Obama believes in trust but vilify — trust our enemies and vilify anyone who doesn’t agree with you,” Huckabee quipped. “We got nothing. We didn’t even get four hostages out. Iran got everything it wants.
“When somebody points a gun at your head and loads it, you need to take it seriously, and by God I take it seriously,” Huckabee concluded, but, like Paul, did not explain how he would respond to the deal if he were to be elected.
GOP frontrunner and real estate mogul Donald Trump floundered in his attempt to answer with specifics on a theoretical question with respect to the reported trip to Moscow by Iranian commander Qassem Suleimani, who is currently still under an international travel ban. When asked about what he would do if a similar situation happened under his watch, Trump responded: “I would be so different right now from what you have now. I would be the polar opposite.”
As he dove deeper into the question—without addressing the specific issue of Suleimani or what his exact response would be—Trump messed up criticizing Obama’s willingness to agree to “the nuclear deal with 24-hour periods”—a figure that he repeated later in his statement.
While Trump did not specify which periods he meant, it was likely that he was referring to the 24-day process set forth under the agreement for securing access to the contested Iranian sites that are suspected of being used for developing nuclear weapons.
Trump also added, “What happened in Iran is a disgrace and it’s going to lead to destruction in huge parts of the world.”
Texas senator Ted Cruz, like Trump, turned the question into a referendum on how Obama handles foreign policy.
“Leading from behind is a disaster. We have alienated our friends and allies and our enemies are getting stronger,” said Cruz, who has frequently complained that the Obama administration is not sufficiently supportive of Israel.
Cruz directly addressed the topic of Suleimani, if not what he would do about Suleimani’s travels, by claiming that the Iranian general was “directly responsible” for the deaths of more than 500 service people in Iraq.
“We need a new commander in chief who will stand up to our enemies and have credibility,” Cruz announced, offering Iran’s 1981 decision to free its American hostages on the day that Ronald Reagan was sworn in as president as an example.
In his final statement, Cruz emphasized his foreign policy credentials in addition to his social conservatism, listing among the things he would do immediately if elected president the idea of rescinding the nuclear deal with Iran and moving the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, a statement that had the audience applauding.
Hours before the main debate, the candidates who did not poll among the top 10 also discussed the Iran deal, which is extremely unpopular among Republican voters.
“I would a whole lot rather have [fellow Republican candidate] Carly Fiorina doing the negotiations instead of John Kerry,” said Texas Governor Rick Perry, who is struggling to match the success of his 2012 primaries campaign.
“The issue for us is to have a Congress that stands up and says not only ‘no,’ but ‘Hell, no,’” he added.
Former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina also criticized the process that led up to the Iran nuclear agreement in July. “Obama broke every rule of negotiation,” she complained. “Yes, our allies are not perfect, but Iran is at the heart of almost every evil that is going on in the ME through their proxy.”