Most political analysts have long argued that the 2012 presidential election will hinge on the nation's economy and job creation. Then why did Mitt Romney, in his post-Iowa caucuses speech, spotlight another place that begins with the letter "I" --- Iran?
For all the GOP presidential candidates except Texan Ron Paul, Iran is a foreign policy issue being used to show they are tougher than President Obama. Toughness and the threat of military intervention are issues that often play well to much of the Republican Party and some independents. And the contenders accuse the president of failing to act forcefully against the Islamic Republic’s effort to develop nuclear weapons.
After the usual thank-yous to campaign workers and voters, Romney wasted no time in bringing up Iran.
“Four years ago tonight, he was giving a victory celebration speech here in Des Moines,” said Romney of Obama’s victory in the Iowa caucuses in 2008, a win that helped propel the then-senator from Illinois to the Democratic nomination.
“We face an extraordinary challenge in America,” Romney said. “You know that. And that is, internationally, Iran is about to have nuclear weaponry just down the road here. And this president, what’s he done in that regard? He said he’d have a policy of engagement. How’s that worked out?
“Yeah, not terribly well,” Romney told the crowd. “We -- we have no -- no sanctions of a severe nature, crippling sanctions put in place. The president was silent when dissident voices took to the streets in Iran. And of course, he hasn’t prepared the military options that would -- would present credibly our ability to -- to take out the threat that would be presented by Iran. He’s failed on that.”
It was only after slamming Obama for his Iran policy -- which has included economic sanctions -- that Romney, who invariably cites his economic credentials, brought up the issue that most voters say will be key to their vote: the American economy.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who wound up in a virtual tie with former Massachusetts Gov. Romney in Tuesday's caucuses, has also not been shy to raise the issue of military intervention in Iran.
In a weekend interview with “Meet the Press,” Santorum called on Obama to toughen his position.
“I would be saying to the Iranians, you either open up those [nuclear] facilities, you begin to dismantle them and, and make them available to inspectors, or we will degrade those facilities through airstrikes and make it very public that we are doing that," Santorum said.
Only third-place finisher Paul, whose libertarian philosophy includes a strong isolationist streak, has expressed reticence toward taking on Iran more toughly.
Photo: Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks at his caucus night rally in Des Moines, Iowa. Credit : Charles Dharapak / Associated Press