LE MARS, IOWA — As Iran made international headlines with threats of nuclear tests (which the country now says it has delayed), Republican presidential hopeful Ron Paul firmly defended his controversial position on Iran to Iowa voters.
At a campaign stop here, Paul reiterated his position that sanctions on Iran are "an act of war," a message he delivered at other stops in the Hawkeye State this week. "If we were prohibited from having imports into this country, we would consider it an act of war," he said. "The best way to think about this is the golden rule. If we don't want somebody to do it to us, we shouldn't do it to them."
[Photo Gallery: GOP candidates head to Iowa.]
Paul maintained his position later, at a stop in Sioux City, Iowa. "Those who criticize [a non-interventionist foreign policy] as being isolationist are the ones who are much more isolationist," he said, adding a pointed reference to sanctions on Iran: "Isolation is usually trade barriers and putting on sanctions and not working with diplomacy and not working with nations and trying to at least work out some problems. … Sanctions frequently, if not always, leads to war."
Paul's Republican opponents have often criticized the Texas congressman's stance toward Iran, saying he should be tougher regarding that country's nuclear ambitions. Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann and Paul clashed over Iran in a debate earlier this month. Earlier this week, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum warned Iowans about what he considers to be the dangers of Paul's foreign policy stances. On CNN's Situation Room this week, Santorum also warned about the consequences if Ron Paul should pull the U.S. naval fleet out of the Strait of Hormuz. On Wednesday, Mitt Romney took a swing at Paul on the subject of Iran: "One of the people running for president thinks it's OK for Iran to have a nuclear weapon. I don't. I don't trust the ayatollahs."
Paul dismissed his opponents' criticisms as a political ploy. "I think going up in the polls all of a sudden it became a political necessity for them to find something. They couldn't find any flip-flops, so they had to work on something else," he said here.
Though Paul's views on foreign policy—and Iran in particular—are divisive among Republicans, none of candidates' barbs will make much of a difference in support totals in Tuesday's caucuses, says Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. "Honestly, I think in the case of Ron Paul, Republicans have already made up their minds. He has a very firm floor and a very low ceiling, and that's the way it's going to stay," says Sabato.
Sabato also points out that Paul's noninterventionist foreign policy may be one reason he has gained so much support amongst Iowa voters. "Iowa has long been considered a center of anti-war activity. It has been during most wars."
[Read: Youth for Paul Blasts Newt Gingrich.]
Paul has also made a particular effort to tie his foreign policy views to the economy, voters' top concern in this year's election.
"I don't feel like we're safer because of this money that we're spending. In many ways I feel less safe," in part because of the fiscal strains created by defense spending, he said.
He added, "My position, and the reason I talk so much about foreign policy is I think it's the easiest place to cut spending." Paul has promised that as president, he would cut $1 trillion in federal spending in the first year. He told the crowd in Le Mars that half of those cuts would come from "all the foreign aid and all the intervention and all the propping up of dictators, because I don't believe it helps us."