GOP Candidates Speak to Republican Jewish Coalition

Presidential aspirants pledge more aggressive foreign policies.

On December 7, the Republican presidential candidates spoke to the Republican Jewish Coalition, except for Ron Paul who was not invited. The six contenders went before the influential organization to make their case that they’d be the best one to handle Israel, the Middle East and the war against radical Islam.

Newt Gingrich, the new frontrunner, said that the country is in the same spot in the struggle against radical Islam that it was in 1946 against the Soviet Union. He asserted that the U.S. prosecution of this struggle is “based on a pack of lies and a pack of self-deception,” using the Justice Department’s removal of all mentions of Islam from their counter-terrorism training materials as an example.

Gingrich said he’d support a policy of regime change in Iran and Syria. He would replicate the strategy used by Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II to bring down the Soviet Union. Iran’s gas refinery should be sabotaged and “every dissident group” in Iran should get U.S. funding and other forms of assistance, like with communications. He admitted that the U.S. doesn’t know what a post-Assad Syria will look like, but said it was worth the risk. He ruled out using U.S. forces to topple Assad, but favors helping the rebel forces.

He again promised to sign an executive order immediately after his inauguration that would move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Gingrich pledged to transform the government, including the national security apparatus. He announced that he’d choose former U.N. ambassador John Bolton to be his Secretary of State, drawing a huge applause. Bolton would be tasked with changing the State Department’s culture of appeasement. The intelligence community will be “liberated” so that it doesn’t have to rely upon questionable allies like Pakistan for information.

Gingrich was the only one to mention the State Department’s hosting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference in Washington D.C. next week and the prosecution of the war in Iraq. He said the U.S. should never work with “those who would censor the world on behalf of Islam.” On Iraq, he argued that it wouldn’t have taken a turn for the worst under his direction. Gingrich said that he warned the Bush Administration to hire, not fire, the Iraqi army and withdraw from the cities. He harshly criticized Paul Bremer, the leader of the Coalition Provincial Authority that governed Iraq after Saddam fell.

Mitt Romney again promised that his first trip abroad would be to Israel. He did not speak about overthrowing Iran’s government, but did say that he’d push for the indictment of Ahmadinejad based on Article 3 of the Genocide Convention. Romney was the only candidate to mention American policy towards Russia. He criticized the New START Treaty, calling it “one-sided” and criticizing President Obama for offering to remove the anti-ballistic missile defense from Poland and to exclude tactical nuclear weapons from the agreement.

Romney said that the Republican presidential field will all stand by Israel and have the same views on Iran but “what distinguishes us is our experience, our perspective and our judgment.” He used the remainder of the speech to highlight his credentials on the economy and his personal history. He was sure to talk about his long marriage and strong family in a discreet contrast with Gingrich.
Michele Bachmann sounded like a policy wonk, demonstrating her depth of knowledge with facts and examples. She opened up by comparing the early sighting of a Japanese submarine before the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor to today’s warnings about Iran. She mentioned that the Iranian constitution mandates jihad. She called for a policy of regime change based on supporting the Iranian opposition and increased covert operations while developing a war plan to stop Iran from going nuclear if necessary.

Bachmann spoke at length about her feelings towards Israel. As Gingrich earlier pledged, she said she’d authorize the moving of the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on her first day as president. She said that the first step towards peace must be taken by the Palestinian Authority, which is in violation of its agreements to fight against terrorism and to not inspire it. She said that Fatah must change its constitution so that it no longer calls for the destruction of Israel.

She opposes the Palestinian “right to return” and she’d recognize Israel’s right to the Golan Heights. She was the only candidate to say that she would support Israel’s settlements in the West Bank. She was also the only candidate to compliment President Obama, mentioning his threat to veto any U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state. She finished by repeating a quote from Hitler where he said, “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”

“Ahmadinejad is counting on the same collective memory today as he marches towards a second holocaust,” Bachmann finished.

Rick Perry opened up by talking about the captivity of two Jewish-Americans, Alan Gross in Cuba and Warren Weinstein in Pakistan. He said that the U.S. should not encourage tourism to Cuba until Gross is released and should cut aid to Pakistan. He was the only candidate to explicitly say that he supports a Palestinian state, but said that it would only come once the Palestinians renounce Hamas, directly negotiate a settlement with Israel and recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.

Perry spoke about sanctioning Iran’s Central Bank but did not make any other suggestions. He rebutted criticism that his pledge to start all foreign aid at zero would hurt Israel. He said that Israel would actually have increased aid under a Perry Administration. He was the only one to talk about his own personal trip to Israel, specifically his visits to the Western Wall, Masada and Sderot and his meeting with Natan Sharansky.

Rick Santorum supported those who refer to the War on Terror as “The Long War.” He said that the U.S. mustn’t rely upon Israel to stop Iran from going nuclear and spoke at length about how Mutually Assured Destruction will not work with the regime. He called for funding the protesters, establishing a fund to support Iranian workers that go on strike, providing telecommunications equipment to the opposition and covert activity. He said that any scientist working on Iran’s nuclear program should be considered an “enemy combatant,” just like a member of Al-Qaeda would.

In response to a question, Santorum warned of the threat from Latin America. He said that “militant socialists” had teamed up with radical Islamists to form a bloc of Iran, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba. He said that the U.S. needs alliances in the Western Hemisphere designed to counter them.

Jon Huntsman spoke almost entirely about domestic matters. He spoke about his close friendship with the Israeli ambassador to China and promised to stop Iran from going nuclear. He said that if Iran gets nukes, then so will Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt and others. He downplayed the threat from China, saying that their economic growth is slowing down. He called for an end to “nation building”  in Afghanistan and only having enough forces there to train the Afghan security forces, gather intelligence and act as a rapid reaction force.

The Republican Jewish Coalition’s forum is likely to be the last event with an emphasis on foreign policy and the Middle East. The dominant issue is the economy but a crisis can erupt at any moment. Primary voters would be wise to remember that they are choosing a potential Commander-in-Chief.

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