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Edited to fix Thomas More College link.

So here is my encounter from an Ask Mitt Anything last night at Thomas More College. Romney actually received a lot of pretty tough, somewhat combative, questions.

So I asked a tough question….and Romney was textbook at dodging all parts of the question.

Erin: The Department of Energy and the Bush Administration have plans to develop a new generation of nuclear weapons, including the Reliable Replacement Warhead. Not only would this seem to undermine the purpose of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, of which we are a signatory, it would send the wrong message to the rest of the world with a “do as I say, not as I do” nuclear policy. As President, would you continue funding this project? If you would, how can you justify your response when the United States already has 10,000 nuclear warheads which scientists have deemed “reliable”?

Romney: I will not commit to weakening our nuclear arsenal, especially in a time of radical jihad. When we have countries like Iran, sitting on virtually endless supply of energy, pursuing nuclear technology with such haste – if we continue to allow them to pursue nuclear dreams it will encourage other countries to do so as well. We will not go outside our obligations to the NPT but I will not commit to unilaterally weakening our nuclear arsenal in a time like this.

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One of our board members is interviewed by The Guardian in this video.

And speaking of Hillary, she was in Concord yesterday and was asked if she would take “the nuclear option with Iran off the table.” She responded “I think with the intelligence estimate we need to get to diplomacy and get talking about–”

Clinton was interrupted by the questioner who asked “will you take [the nuclear option] off the table completely.” Her response was “Um, well, we’ve had, probably–what?–ten presidents since the dawn of the nuclear age and it’s American policy not to talk about what is or isn’t on the table, so I’m going to stick to that policy.”

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Mitt Romney’s bad day yesterday just didn’t seem to end.

LONDONDERRY – A former CIA analyst turned critic of the U.S. tactics in the war on terror tried to “Ask Mitt Anything” yesterday and found the former Bay State governor knows how to sidestep a diplomatic incident.

Ray McGovern, who has gained national attention as a critic of President Bush’s policies, asked Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney to comment on a news item about the U.S. assessment of Iran’s nuclear intentions. The question came up during a campaign appearance at Insight, a Londonderry firm which designs and manufactures tactical gear for the military.

McGovern quoted an Israeli source who said American intelligence is flawed and vowed that Israel would not let U.S. policy be based on a faulty assumption. Then he asked Romney how he feels about allowing Israel to dictate U.S policy.

Romney replied that he was not convinced the Israelis were trying to dictate American policy.

“There are 16 different intelligence agencies saying Iran continues to develop the fuel they need (for nuclear weapons),” he said. Meanwhile, Iran has only stopped building the warhead.

“That’s relevant, of course,” Romney said. But nonetheless, he said Iran could have a bomb in two to four years. Romney said he favors tightening sanctions against Iran and repeated a call to indict Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, for inciting genocide, quoting remarks Ahmadinejad made about wiping Israel off the map.

And the incident in which a New Hampshire Peace Action staff member was ejected from the event made the Concord Monitor also.

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Question: An intelligence report released earlier this week said Iran has not had a nuclear weapons program since 2003. Will you take military and nuclear options off the table regarding Iran?

Answer: I’m glad you mentioned it. It’s called the national intelligence estimate. The short answer is I am not in favor of going to war with Iran, period. I don’t think it’s the right thing, the smart thing for the United States to do. I have spoken out against President [Bush] trying to maneuver circumstances in such a way to move us toward that.

[rest is paraphrased]: She called for aggressive diplomacy with a combination of sticks and carrots.

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I went to see Edwards tonight in Manchester and asked a question about nukes and the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and he was pretty strong, called himself ‘out there’ on the issue in calling for the US to lead a worldwide effort to eliminate nukes; referenced the Sam Nunn, Henry Kissinger plan and agreeing with my point about the US’ double standard on nukes – added himself that we are not just stockpiling them but developing new ones, that it was part of the problem he’d referred to earlier about Iran and Pakistan, we can’t deal with this issue on an ‘ad hoc’ basis one country and one situation at a time but needed a comprehensive plan to get rid of them.

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John Edwards spoke to a packed room at Hart’s Turkey Farm today.

Question: If elected, what will your policy be towards Pakistan? In my view the most dangerous international situation confronting our country.

Answer: It certainly is at this time a very, very dangerous situation. Lets start with the problem and then I’ll tell you what I’ll do.

The problem is you have an unstable leader, Musharraf who has promised all these democratic and economic reforms that he has not followed through on. You have a very radical element within Pakistan, and they have a nuclear weapon. And they are in constant conflict, particularly with India, over the issue of Kashmir. That’s the background for what’s happening, and then again, of course, you’ve got Musharraf declaring the equivalent of marshal law, suspending the government and suspending the constitution.

So, what should America do? The danger of course is, if he gets disposed, some dangerous radical group takes over the government and then they have a nuclear weapon which they can choose to use or turn over to a terrorist organization. So there’s a great risk associated with this.

Let me say one thing before I got into specifics about Pakistan because I think it relates to why I think they’re so dangerous. Pakistan has a nuclear weapon. A.Q. Khan, who developed the nuclear weapon for Pakistan, has spread this technology around the world. And I think the notion that over the long term, over the next 50-75 years, America can successfully stop the spread of nuclear weapons in an ad hoc way –IE: Iran’s about to get a nuclear weapon so everyone’s focuses on what we’re going to do with Iran; we’re worried about North Korea is doing; we see what’s happening in Pakistan–that idea, that will not, that, you can’t sustain that. Sooner or later this stuff is going to get out. It’s too easy to spread. So the question is what should America do for the LONG TERM and I’ll tell you what I’ll do with Pakistan.

For the long term, and I think the answer to this–and what I would do as President– is to lead a long term initiative to rid the world of nuclear weapons. Pakistan is the living, breathing example of what we’re talking about.

Now, what should we be trying to accomplish in Pakistan? There should be several things we’re trying to accomplish. One is, the northwest part of Pakistan–which is Al-Qaeda’s been operating and where many speculate bin Laden’s may be–that part of the country needs to be under control. Second, they need to hold the elections that have been promised to be held in January. Third, we need to be supporting the democratic reformers–those within the Pakistani government–who are actually trying to sustain some level of democratic reform. And, we need to make sure their nuclear weapons are safe, that they’re not going to get into the hands of someone that shouldn’t be in the hands of. I think those are the basics of which we’re trying to accomplish there, all of which are aimed at creating some level of stability.

There are a number of things we can do. We’ve given about 10 billion dollars in aid to Pakistan. We’ve asked for very little in return. In fact, a lot of that aid has gone to empowering Musharraf as opposed to helping the Pakistani people. We need to use the aid and reform the way we’re providing aid. That’s number one. That’s our leverage.

Second, we have very little expertise within our State Department–within the American government–on Pakistan. The history of Pakistan, the Pakistani people, what they’re sensitive about, what they care about, and we need real experts within our government. Sounds basic and fundamental, but it’s frightening to see how little we know. And how little expertise we have within the American government on the issue of Pakistan.

Third, instead of just dealing with this issue alone, we should be doing it–like a lot of things–multilaterally, which means we need to bring other countries in who have as much of an interest as we do, and [inaudible].

Last, we need an intense diplomatic effort so that we, and our other friends around the world, are working diplomatically, both with the Pakistani government and with the friends of Pakistan, to ratchet up pressure on Musharraf to do the right thing.

So I think it’s all those things in combination that are not so simple–it’s a pretty sophisticated way of dealing with it over the long term but that’s what I think we ought to be doing.

At the end of the day, the way to keep these situations under control is we ought to be leading the world in the long term initiative to rid the world of nuclear weapons.

Question: Achieving a peaceful and stable Iraq requires more than the withdrawal of US troops. Please tell us what thoughts you have regarding the role of the US in reconstruction, political development, and regional diplomacy.

Answer: The key to stability in Iraq–and I think this is the one thing everyone agrees on, we just differ on how to get there– is there has to be some political compromise between the Sunni and the Shi’a. Without that political compromise there can’t be civility. Because it the underlying foundation for all the violence.

The question becomes–and this is where we diverge–how do you maximize pressure on the Sunni and Shi’a leadership to try to reach some political compromise?

Bush’s argument, which I think is ridiculous, is that we keep pouring American money and troops and sooner or later things will get better. That really–that will not work. It’s not worked for years and it’s not going to work now.

What I would do is I would make it first clear that we are leaving by pulling 40-50,000 combat troops out immediately, and then I would continue a steady withdrawal over about 9 or 10 months so that all combat troops were out by then. That would be accompanied by an intense effort to bring the Sunni and Shi’a to the table and pushing them to reach a political compromise. Because they see the handwriting on the wall. America is not going to continue to prop them up.

I do think–I would get the combat troops out and end combat missions entirely. I do think we have a longer moral obligation to help them rebuilding their infrastructure [questioner said “considering we destroyed it”]. Correct, that’s exactly right. For that reason we should do that.

Now, I think the other piece of this is crucial and this is part of your question [looking at the questioner] is what do we do with the other countries in the region? What do we do with particularly Iran and Syria who have been largely ignored in this effort to stabilize Iraq? Well, the Iranians have a clear interest in a stable Iraq. I mean, if you think about this through the eyes of the Iranians, they don’t want a million refugees coming across the border, and they also don’t want to see a broader Middle East conflict between Shi’a and Sunni because Shi’a are about 10-15% of the Muslim world. About 85-90% are Sunni. So if you’re a Shi’a dominated country, which Iran is, a broader Middle East conflict is very dangerous for them. So, they have an interest in a stable Iraq, and the Syrians are different but they also have an interest in a stable Iraq –they’re also concerned about refugees, economic stability, etc–so I would intensify the diplomatic effort, not just with Iran and Syria but with Turkey and all the countries in that region. Because all of them have an interest in a stable Iraq.

And I would get all combat troops out of Iraq and end combat missions but I don’t think we should abandon the region. I think that we should keep a naval presence in the Persian Gulf, I think that we probably need some quick reaction forces in Kuwait–because of any thing that can happen in that part of the world–and maybe it’s safe [?] for us to increase our presence in Afghanistan because things have gone badly there. The Taliban has reemerged, the heroin trade is way up and particularly in the south the Taliban’s strength has reemerged.

So I think those are the things I would do over the long term.

You know there’s this issue in northern Iraq where the Turks are right now, and that’s an issue where we need intense diplomacy with the Turkish government to prevent that situation from exploding.

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