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January 8, 2008

Our Community’s Influence on the Presidential Primary Races

As the national Presidential elections heat up after the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries, the Iranian American community can look forward to its participation in the states where it overwhelmingly resides.  On February 5th, 50.9% of Democratic delegates and 44% of Republican delegates to the national conventions will be selected from states including California, New York, New Jersey, Illinois, and Minnesota.

Iranian-Americans have a real opportunity to affect the outcome of some of these elections for both the Republican and the Democratic parties.  However, we can only do this as a community if we are informed about the process and participate in great numbers.  This month, NIAC published an article on the potential Iranian-American influence in the Presidential Primary process that I hope helps further educate our community.

Below are a few thoughts on the candidates and I welcome you to join the conversation about these important elections.

As a 501c(3) organization, NIAC obviously has to remain non-partisan and can not recommend candidates for the community.  But I can try to illuminate how they have explained their positions relating to US-Iran relations during their campaigns.  

On the Democratic side

All the candidates seem to espouse some form of closer diplomatic engagement.  However, all of them, except for Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), have also used the phrase “all options are on the table.”  Sen. Barak Obama (D-IL), who after the Iowa primary and today’s expected New Hampshire win, looks very strong to become the Democratic nominee, explicitly stated in an October interview with the NY Times that he would “engage in aggressive personal diplomacy” with Iran (Emphasis Added).

Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) has taken the most hawkish line among the Democratic candidates.  In fact, in an October debate in Philadelphia, her vote on the Kyl-Lieberman resolution received uniform derision from the rest of the candidates with MSNBC reporting that “The contention over the Iran resolution was the sharpest disagreement in a debate that saw Clinton, D-N.Y., come under a gang assault from a field of rivals hoping to chip away at her commanding lead in national polls.”

Former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC), polling third nationally, has focused mostly on domestic priorities during the campaign.  Although he has not made diplomacy with Iran a centerpiece of his foreign policy positions, he did strongly disagree with the Kyl-Lieberman resolution stating “I mean, it literally gave Bush and Cheney exactly what they wanted.”

Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM) and Kucinich (D-OH), currently polling fourth and fifth respectively in NH, are candidates who have made their commitment to diplomatic engagement with Iran one of the central tenants of their foreign policy platform. 

On the Republican side

With no clear front runner emerging yet, the candidates hold various (though generally more hawkish) views on US-Iran relations. Except for Rep Ron Paul (R-TX), all the candidates generally support President Bush’s current policy towards Iran and in some cases have tried to out-hawk each other vis-à-vis Iran.

Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-AR), the surprise winner of the Iowa caucuses, and currently considered the “frontrunner” nationally (as of Jan. 6), was reported to have “urged consideration of restoring diplomatic relations with Iran”.  In the same Sept 28 speech to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, he “criticized President Bush for naming Iran as part of the ‘axis of evil’.”  Though it is unclear whether he will be the Republican’s eventual nominee, it is interesting to note that the frontrunners in both parties have the most pro-dialogue positions.

Sen. John McCain, currently locked in a dead-heat with Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA) in the NH primary caught a lot of national attention for jokingly singing “‘bomb Iran’?  Bomb bomb bomb, well anyway…”  McCain, who was endorsed by Hawkish Sen. Joe Liebermann (I-CT) has also been quoted as having said “I believe that this [attacking Iran’s nuclear sites] is a possibility that is maybe closer to reality than we are discussing tonight.”

Romney, like most of the Republican candidates has taken a hard-line stating that “Proposing that we negotiate with terrorist regimes like Iran… is just counter-productive.” 

Rudi Giuliani (R-NY), former mayor of New York, who was the national front-runner for most of 2007, has also opposed negotiations and even questioned the December National Intelligence Estimate (NIE). I should also note that one of Giuliani’s most important foreign policy advisors is none other than arch neo-con Norman Podhoretz who wrote “The case for bombing Iran.”

Former Sen. Fred Thomson (R-TN) who seems least likely at this point to earn the nomination, has been the most vociferous skeptic of the NIE in the Republican field saying “They’re still enriching uranium, and I’m very suspicious of the thing [NIE]”

And finally we come to Paul, the libertarian-leaning congressman, has been the odd voice for peace.  He has often come under uniform assault by the other candidates during the debates for promoting a draw-back in American presence abroad.  An opponent of American military engagement across the world, he has often characterized the US as an “Imperial” power and stated unequivocally that Iran does not pose a threat to the US.  Paul is not expected to win the nomination, currently polling at around 5% nationally, but he has attracted a lot of attention for his dedicated online support with which he raised over $20 million in the fourth quarter of 2007 (the highest of any of the Republican candidates).

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