The Republican debate
This is the part of the Republican debate we sent to the Israel Factor panel (To go back to the analysis, click here):
Mr. Matthews: Thank you.
Governor Romney, that raises the question, if you were president of the United States, would you need to go to Congress to get authorization to take military action against Iran's nuclear facilities?
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. The president did that as he was planning on moving into Iraq and received the authorization of Congress...
Matthews: Did he need it?
Romney: You know, we're going to let the lawyers sort out what he needed to do and what he didn't need to do. But, certainly, what you want to do is to have the agreement of all the people - leadership of our government as well as our friends around the world where those circumstances are available.
Romney: But the key thing here is to make sure we don't have to use military action against Iran. That's what you hope to be able to do and that's why 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 bafoon that he is. And it was outrageous for the United Nations to invite him to come to this country. It was outrageous for Columbia to invite him to speak at their university.
This is a person denied the Holocaust, a person who has spoken about genocide, is seeking the means to carry it out. And it is unacceptable to this country to allow that individual to have he control of launching a nuclear weapon.
And so we will take the action necessary to keep that from happening.
And I think each person on the stage, certainly in my case, I would make sure that we would take the action necessary to keep Iran from having a nuclear weapon.
Matthews: I guess I want to get to the basic constitutional view here of you gentlemen. I want to start with Congressman Hunter. The same question. If we get - I'd like to get a number - response. This couldn't be more important. Do you believe that Congress has to authorize a strategic attack, not an attack on - during hot pursuit, but a strategic attack on weaponry in Iran - do you need congressional approval as commander and chief?
Hunter: Answer, Chris, it depends on one thing. First, I think the president does not need that if the target is fleeting. We live in this age of terrorists with high technology. And, if you have a very narrow window to hit a target, the president's going to have to take that on his shoulders.
Hunter: He's going to have to do it.
He has right to do that under the Constitution, as the commander in chief of the military forces.
If he has time, then certainly you want to go to Congress, as we did in Iraq, and get the approval of Congress. So it's a matter of whether or not the target is fleeting.
And with respect to Iran, Iran is walking down the path to build a nuclear device. They've got now about a thousand centrifuges. They claim they've got 3,000. At some point, we may have to preempt that target. If we do, it should be done, hopefully, with allies, but perhaps by the U.S. alone.
Matthews: The same question down the line, gentlemen. It's so important.
Congressman Paul, do you believe the president needs authorization of Congress to attack strategic targets in Iran, nuclear facilities?
Paul: Absolutely. This idea of going and talking to attorneys totally baffles me. Why don't we just open up the Constitution and read it? You're not allowed to go to war without a declaration of war.
Now, as far as fleeting enemies go, yes. If there's an imminent attack on us. We've never had that happen in 220 years.
Paul: The thought that the Iranians could pose an imminent attack on the United States is preposterous. There's no way. This is just...
Paul: This is - this is just war propaganda, continued war propaganda, preparing this nation to go to war and spread this war not only in Iraq, but into Iran, unconstitutionally. It is a road to disaster for us as a nation. It's a road to our financial disaster if we don't read the Constitution once in a while.
Matthews: Around the...
Governor Huckabee, same question. Do you need Congress to approve such an action?
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.
Matthews: Without going to Congress?
Huckabee: Well, 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, Chris, the most important single thing is to make sure.
Matthews: And if Congress say no, what do you do?
Matthews: If Congress says no, what do you do, Governor?
Huckabee: You do what's best for the American people and you suffer the consequences. But what you don't do is what you never do, is let the American people one day get hit with a nuclear device because you had politics going on in Washington, instead of the protection of the American people first.
Matthews: Senator McCain?
McCain: We're dealing, of course, with hypotheticals. 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, when you're inaugurated as president of the United States.
If it's a long series of build-ups, where the threat becomes greater and greater, of course you want to go to Congress; of course you want to get approval, if this is an imminent threat to the security of the United States of America.
So it obviously depends on the scenario.
But I would, at minimum - I would, at minimum, consult with the leaders of Congress because there may come a time when you need the approval of Congress. And I believe that this is a possibility that is, maybe, closer to reality than we are discussing tonight.
Matthews: Senator Thompson?
Thompson: On this question? Yes, I think John has it right.
I would add that under the War Powers Act, there's always a conflict between the Congress and the president as to the exact applicability of that when an engagement lasts for a particular period of time and when they must come before Congress.
I don't think anybody running for president should diminish the power of the office before he gets there and take side in a hypothetical dispute. But I would say that 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, or leaders, especially in the opposite party, are convinced and looking at the evidence that this is the right thing to do, that will help you with the American people.
Thompson: And we have learned that, over the long term in any conflict, we've got to have the strong support of the American people over a protracted period of time.
Matthews: Just to bring it up to date on this, the political context - you know, Mayor, that Hillary Clinton has proposed - she's co-sponsored legislation to do just this: require the president to come to Congress for any decision to go to attack a nuclear facility in Iran.
Giuliani: It really depends on exigency of the circumstances and how legitimate it is, that it really is an exigent circumstance. 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.
And the point of - I think it was Congressman Paul made before - that we've never had an eminent attack, I don't know where he was on September 11th.
Paul: That was no country.
That was 19 thugs. That had nothing to do with a country.
Giuliani: And since September - well, I think it was kind of organized in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And if we had known about it, maybe - maybe hitting a target there, quickly, might have helped prevent it.
In any event, we've had 23 plots since September 11, where Islamic terrorists are planning to kill Americans, that we've had to stop.
So imminent attack is a possibility, and we should be ready for it.
Now, you asked me about Hillary Clinton. At the last Democratic debate, Hillary Clinton was asked by Tim Russert whether she agreed with my position on Iran. I like that form of debate, by the way. Any time you want to do it that way, ask her if she agrees with my other positions as well.
But on Iran - on Iran, what she said was, 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.
Giuliani: Well, you've got to answer the question. The answer is: Yes, we would. Iran is a greater danger than Iraq. Iraq cannot be seen in a vacuum. And we have to be willing to use a military option to stop Iran from become nuclear.
If we're willing to do it, we have a much better chance of having sanctions for it.