How McCain's position on Iran fared better than Giuliani's
Exactly the way we did it in the last Israel Factor weekly question, this week we also sent the Israel Factor panel a segment of a presidential debate. But this time it's the Republican debate from last week.
Most of the time was dedicated to economic issues, but the part we focused on dealt with Iran. Here are some of the highlights, and then the analysis of the panel's vote (You can read the entire segment we send the panel here). The moderator was Chris Matthews.
Matthews: Governor Romney, if you were president, would you need to go to Congress to get authorization to take military action against Iran's nuclear facilities?
Mitt Romney: You sit down with your attorneys and tell you want you have to do, but obviously the president of the United States has to do what's in the best interest of the United States to protect us against a potential threat.
Mike Huckabee: A president has to whatever is necessary to protect the American people. If we think Iran is building nuclear capacity that could be used against us in any way, including selling some of the nuclear capacity to some other terrorist group, then, yes, we have a right...
Matthews: Without going to Congress?
Huckabee: And I would do it in a heartbeat if it's necessary to get it done because it's actionable right now, yes. If you have the time and the luxury of going to Congress, that's always better. [But] you do what's best for the American people and you suffer the consequences.
John McCain: If the situation is that it requires immediate action to ensure the security of the United States of America, that's what you take your oath to do. If it's a long series of build-ups, where the threat becomes greater and greater, of course you want to go to Congress. So it obviously depends on the scenario. And I believe that this is a possibility that is, maybe, closer to reality than we are discussing tonight.
Fred Thompson: In any close call, you should go to Congress, whether it's legally required or not. Because you're going to need the American people and Congress will help you if they're voting for it or if they support it.
Rudy Giuliani: It's desirable, it's safer to go to Congress, get approval from Congress. If you're really dealing with an exigent circumstance, then the president has to act in the best interests of the country. At the last Democratic debate, Hillary Clinton was asked by Tim Russert whether she agreed with my position on Iran. She was asked would you take a strong position that Iran will not be allowed to become nuclear and that we would use a military option, if we had to. And she didn't answer the question. Well, you've got to answer the question. The answer is: Yes, we would.
Our "Factor" panel was asked a simple question (also similar to the one we asked last week). Rate the responses of five candidates (Congressman Ron Paul was not ranked because we never included his name in our discussion, which might prove to be a mistake) on a scale of 1-5. A score of 1 means "this is a terrible response" from an Israeli perspective, 5 means "this guy got is just right". This is the outcome - the common wisdom of the panel:
Some explaination is due at this point, first on Romney's terrible showing. Evidently, the panel didn't like his lawyerly response. I knew this was coming when I wrote, just minutes after the debate has ended, that Mitt Romney "botched it: saying that you need to consult with your lawyers as to make a decision related to national security is not a good choice."
It reminded me of a Democratic debate in which Barack Obama responded to a question about terror by talking about first responders, then about intelligence, and was quite vague on the need to counter attack, defining it as "take potentially some action to dismantle that network."
No panelist gave Romney more than a 3 for this response, although he did came out pretty strongly on Iran later in the game. He said: "We're going to put a lot tougher sanctions on Iran, economic sanctions, credit sanctions. We're also going to have to get serious about treating Ahmadinejad like the rogue and the buffoon that he is."
But why was McCain's response the most acceptable to the panel?
In this case, it is the power of centrism that played the decisive role. The power of being tough, but not too tough. McCain didn't get the best marks from most of the panelists. Many liked Giuliani's combative response better, but some thought he was overly aggressive. He was the only candidate to get a 5 from 2 panelists, but also got a 2 from one and a 3 from another. Mike Huckabee, the candidate who came out pretty strongly in favor of ignoring Congress on the way to confrontation with Iran, also got one 5, but got a 1 too. McCain was just the one candidate who was basically agreeable to all. Not one 5, but not one score lower than 3 either.
On Iran, a complicated issue, it seems as if the panel is looking for someone who speaks softly while carrying a big stick.