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Iran becoming new Iraq on campaign trail

  • Story Highlights
  • Clinton has been defending vote calling Revolutionary Guard a terror organization
  • Criticism reminiscent of Clinton's vote in favor of taking action against Iraq
  • Democratic rivals critical of Clinton's vote, Bush's "saber rattling"
  • Republican candidates vie to take tough stance on Iran
  • Next Article in Politics »
By Paul Steinhauser and Sasha Johnson
CNN Washington Bureau
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- When it comes to presidential politics, Iran appears to the next Iraq.

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Sen. Barack Obama said the sanctions shouldn't be used to keep troops in Iraq or to attack Iran.

While it hasn't pushed aside the war in Iraq, the debate over sanctions against Iran and the possibility of military action against Tehran is gathering steam on the campaign trail.

Democratic candidates expressed concern Thursday about the Bush administration's extensive sanctions against Iran, arguing that the measures were likely precursors to war.

The new sanctions target Iran's Revolutionary Guard, its Quds force and a number of Iranian banks and people the U.S. accuses of backing nuclear proliferation and terror-related activities.

"It is important to have tough sanctions on Iran, particularly on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, which supports terrorism," Barack Obama said. "But these sanctions must not be linked to any attempt to keep our troops in Iraq, or to take military action against Iran." Video Watch Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice explain the new sanctions »

The senator from Illinois added that "unfortunately, the Kyl-Lieberman amendment made the case for President Bush that we need to use our military presence in Iraq to counter Iran -- a case that has nothing to do with sanctioning the Revolutionary Guard."

The Kyl-Lieberman amendment passed 76-22 in the Senate last month. It calls, in part, for the Revolutionary Guard to be designated a terrorist organization. While Obama opposes the legislation, he was campaigning when the full Senate took up the bill and missed the vote.

Former Sen. John Edwards released a statement saying, "Today, George Bush and Dick Cheney again rattled the sabers in their march toward military action against Iran. The Bush Administration has been making plans to attack Iran for many months. At this critical moment, we need strong leadership against George Bush's dangerous 'preventive war' policy, which makes force the first option, not the last."

Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd echoed that sentiment.

"Unfortunately, the action taken by the administration today comes in the context of escalating rhetoric and drumbeat to military action against Iran," he said in a statement. "I am deeply concerned that once again the president is opting for military action as a first resort."

Dodd also highlighted his vote against the Kyl-Lieberman amendment.

Democratic frontrunner Sen. Hillary Clinton's vote for the measure is now a major topic on the campaign trail. Dodd and Clinton's other 2008 rivals say the amendment's language could be used by the Bush administration to justify military action against Iran.

"I learned a clear lesson from the lead-up to the Iraq War in 2002: If you give this president an inch, he will take a mile -- and launch a war," Edwards said. "Sen. Clinton apparently learned a different lesson. Instead of blocking George Bush's new march to war, Sen. Clinton and others are enabling him once again."

Clinton has been defending her vote on Iran ever since she cast it. If you think this sounds familiar, it is.

The early months of this presidential campaign were dominated on the Democratic side by the Senate's 2002 vote for a resolution authorizing Bush to go to war against Iraq. Clinton and Dodd voted in favor of that resolution. Edwards, who was in the Senate at the time, did as well.

Obama was a state lawmaker in Illinois at the time. But he spoke out at time against the bill and against going to war in Iraq. Obama continues to remind voters that he was against the war in Iraq from the start.

Edwards stood by his vote during his first run for the White House in 2004 but last year apologized for it. Clinton's refusal to apologize became an issue among the Democratic candidates.

Now the spotlight has shifted to the vote on Iran, and again Clinton is defending her vote. Last weekend, her campaign sent out a mailer to Iowa voters in which Clinton explained why she supported the bill declaring the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization.

On Thursday, her campaign released a statement that said she was concerned about Bush's "saber-rattling" but pointed to the opportunity in the sanctions.

"We must work to check Iran's nuclear ambitions and its support of terrorism, and the sanctions announced today strengthen America's diplomatic hand in that regard," the statement said. "The Bush administration should use this opportunity to finally engage in robust diplomacy to achieve our objective of ending Iran's nuclear weapons program, while also averting military action. That is the policy I support."

On the Republican side, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney took a hard stand on Iran on Thursday. Romney told voters in New Hampshire that he would take military action, including a blockade or "bombardment of some kind," to stop Iran's move to gain nuclear weapons.

"If for some reasons they continue down their course of folly toward nuclear ambition, then I would take military action if that's available to us," Romney said. "That's an option that's on the table. And it's not something which we'll spell out specifically."

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Romney also spoke out in favor of the Bush administration's sanctions against Tehran.

Romney's language on Iran is similar to what his Republican rivals are saying. Just about all of the GOP White House hopefuls have said they would not allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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