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GOP candidates blast Ron Paul over Iran policy. Is one side crazy?

After Thursday night's GOP candidate debate, a political analyst suggested the Ron Paul hands-off position toward Iran 'jumped the shark.' Mr. Paul says intervention is what's truly nuts. Here are their arguments.

By Staff writer / December 16, 2011

Republican presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, speaks during a Republican presidential debate in Sioux City, Iowa, on Dec. 15.

Eric Gay/AP

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If you're wondering why Ron Paul is sometimes called an isolationist on foreign policy, his role in Thursday night's Republican debate sheds some light.

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The congressman from Texas won some loud applause, but also walked out on a precarious limb with many conservative voters, for picking a fight with fellow Republican candidates on US military policy.

The issue was Iran.

Here's a look at who said what, and the sharp divide over foreign policy and national defense that it illuminated. The chasm was so wide that it left some political analysts saying Mr. Paul sounded crazy. ("Jumped the shark" was the specific phrase used by an analyst with the Fox News network, which hosted the debate.)

For his part, Paul was arguing that other Republicans are essentially pursuing a crazy policy. "Absurd" and "dangerous" were words he used. He also, on the day US military operations officially ended in Iraq, called the war launched there in 2003 by the US and its allies "useless."

Paul and his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination clashed over the seriousness of the threat from Iran, what Iran's geopolitical objectives are, and what US policy should be.

Moderator Bret Baier started the discussion with a question directed at Paul: What would he do, as president, if presented with intelligence showing that Iran had a nuclear weapon? And, by opposing economic sanctions against Iran, is he running to the left of President Obama?

Ron Paul: "You know what I really fear? ... It's another Iraq coming. It's war propaganda going on," he said. "To me, the greatest danger is that we will have a president that will overreact."

He likened the current situation to views of Iraq in 2003: an atomosphere of alarm without solid evidence on the question of weapons capability. "If we lived through cold war, which we did, with 30,000 missiles pointed at us, we ought to really sit back and think, and not jump the gun.... That’s how we got involved in the useless war in Iraq and lost so much."

Similar to his position on Iraq back then, he voiced skepticism that Iran is close to obtaining a nuclear weapon. Paul said it's also important for US policymakers to keep the regional context in mind: Iran feels surrounded by other nations that have nuclear arms, and has seen evidence that nuclear nations get some respect. 

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