By Jeremy Herb - 01/20/12 11:21 AM EST
Calling President Obama weak for the way he’s dealing with Iran, Tea Party Republican Rep. Allen West (Fla.) told The Hill that the United States should be saying “game on” to Iran in the face of its recent threats to close the Strait of Hormuz.
“Right now he’s not conveying any kind of strength whatsoever,” West said of Obama. “If I were sitting at the White House I would say two words to Iran — that’s ‘game on.’ ”
West, an Army veteran and House Armed Services Committee member, criticized Obama over a report Wednesday that an Iranian lawmaker said Obama had called for direct talks with Iran in a secret communication to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. Obama administration officials disputed the report.
“Sooner or later you have to understand that the only thing they’re going to recognize is strength and might, and you must have a credible and viable military threat on the table,” West said. “We’re telegraphing ourselves to be weak.”
Other Republicans jumped in on the news of potential negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, which administration officials have said they would support if Iran was willing to come to the table.
“I hope that reports the administration is seeking new ‘engagement’ with the Iranian regime are false,” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement Thursday. “The Iranian regime is only capable of negotiating in bad-faith, which it is happy to do in order to buy even more time for its nuclear efforts. We can’t afford to fall into this obvious trap yet again.”
Republicans in Congress and on the presidential campaign trail have been critical of Obama’s Iran strategy, accusing him of appeasement as Iran moves its nuclear program forward. The United States and its allies say Iran is trying to produce nuclear weapons, while Iran says its nuclear program is for energy production.
At a fundraiser Thursday in New York, Obama defended the way he’s dealt with Iran, and said an “unprecedented” campaign of sanctions and pressure on Iran is working.
“When I came into office, Iran was united and the world was divided,” Obama said. “And now what we have is a united international community that is saying to Iran, you’ve got to change your ways.”
But West accused Obama of not showing enough strength toward Iran after it threatened last month to close the Strait of Hormuz — vital to oil shipping in the Persian Gulf.
“We’ve been in a state of military conflict with Iran ever since they took our hostages [in 1979],” West said. “I think we tend to forget history.”
Administration and Pentagon officials have said that Iran closing the strait is a “red line” they will not let Iran cross, including using military force to re-open the strait if necessary.
“I would think the commander in chief would stand up for the fact that it is a direct threat to our national interest,” West said. “There are many ways to get into a conflict without us having to commit forces to a land operation.”