- The Washington Times - Monday, January 9, 2012

MERRIMACK, N.H. — In one of the sharper, more substantive debates of the GOP primary so far, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum brought their foreign policy fight to New Hampshire, outlining dueling visions for the role the United States military should play worldwide — particularly in regards to the nation’s relationship with Israel and how best to handle Iran’s nuclear programs.

The White House hopefuls have butted heads over the issues for months, underscoring a divide within Republican ranks on the issue of national security.

At campaign stops this week, Mr. Santorum has said the United States must continue to send foreign assistance to Israel, its biggest ally in the region, and take a harder line on Iran to block it from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

During a town hall meeting in Salem on Monday, the former Pennsylvania senator said he would first fund pro-democracy movements in Iran, enforce sanctions, and encourage covert operations to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program. But if those efforts didn’t work, he would set a deadline for Iran for inspecting their facilities and take out, with tactical air strikes, the nuclear facilities.

“Just like Israelis did to the Syrians, just like the Israelis did to the Iraqis, to take out that capability so they would not develop this weapon,” he said.

Mr. Paul, outlining his foreign policy vision during a town hall meeting Sunday in Merrimack, also said he wants to “maintain a very close relationship with” and be a “good friend of” Israel. But he said funneling U.S. aid to Israel essentially undermines that country’s sovereignty.

“I do not believe that I should take money from anybody here and send money to them,” he said. Sending billions of dollars to Israel, he said, implies “we own you.”

Mr. Paul has advocated a much more measured approach toward Iran than Mr. Santorum.

After a voter on Friday told Mr. Paul that a “nuclear Iran really scares most people,” the Texas congressman, a retired U.S. Air Force flight surgeon, said he’s scared of all nuclear weapons — but he warned that U.S. sanctions, like those being leveled against Iran’s nuclear program, generally lead to war.

“The danger is way overblown about them having one in the near future,” Mr. Paul said, arguing that the United Nations’ nuclear watchdogs have no evidence that Iran is on the verge of obtaining a nuclear weapon and the Central Intelligence Agency agrees. “My greatest fear is that we will overreact, go in and not have a good reason to go in, like we went into Iraq.”

The invasion of Iraq, Mr. Paul said, resulted in 8,500 Americans killed and 45,000 severely injured. “We should only go to war with a great deal of caution,” he said, adding that the Cuban missile crisis showed that. “More could be achieved without immediately resorting to violence.”

Mike Gianino, 51-year-old from Newton, N.H., said Mr. Paul’s stance on Iran could cost him his vote because he’s concerned that Iran could try to stoke the recent rise of radical Islam in the Middle East.

“It’s a big concern because I think if Iran gets a nuclear weapon and poses a threat, I’m scared of what Israel will do in response,” Mr. Gianino said. “It does make me nervous … they’ve proven that they can wreak havoc on us by what they’ve down to us in Iraq while we were there.”

Still, he stopped short of endorsing Mr. Santorum’s call for military strikes.

If he doesn’t support Mr. Paul, Mr. Gianino said, he might back Mitt Romney, who has vowed to use military force against Iran if necessary.

Paul Juchniewich, a 47-year-old from Wentworth, said part of the reason he’s backing Mr. Paul is that “it seems like all the other Republican candidates want to see who can start World War III first.”

Iran is not a threat,” Mr. Juchniewich said. “Even if they get a nuclear bomb, they’ll have one bomb. Israeli has how many — what 300? Think about it man, who is going to commit suicide like that?”

Marian Schwaller Carney, 54, had a different take. After a Santorum event in Dublin, she said that she was leaning to Mr. Santorum and would trust that he’d surround himself with national security advisers who could help guide him toward the best decision possible.

“I think we have to have somewhat of a hawk in our leadership because there’s enough doves to balance it,” she said. “We don’t always get it right, I understand that. And, have we made mistakes in the last eight to 10 years? Maybe. But that’s the hell of war.”

Dave Boyer contributed to this article

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