If you ever wonder what Republicans want to make the American voter aware of on any particular day, just Google it. Today I typed in "obama israel policy" and found page after page of links to coverage of Republican presidential candidates commenting at the Republican Jewish Coalition Forum on Wednesday.
Here's some of what the right's echo chamber on steroids looks like on Google's search results following the forum: SFChronicle.com, BusinessWeek.com, abcnews.com, foxnews.com, cbn.com. realclearpolitics.com, dailycaller.com, observer.com, bachmann.house.gov, gopusa.com, usnews.com, weeklystandard.com, etc. Mixed in are links to videos by the likes of Rep. Peter King (on the Don Imus radio show), as well as tape of Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, and Christopher Hitchens, the conservative author. Even Gene Simmons, the Kiss rocker who was born in Israel (under the name Chaim Witz), gets into the act. All in the name of disparaging President Obama's Israel policy.
This is what we get in today's all-you-can-eat media universe. Bloviating Republicans making nice to supporters of Israel while denigrating Mr. Obama's nuanced handling of Middle East issues in his first term. It was not what I had expected from the Google search "obama israel policy." What I had hoped for, but never did find, was a link to any document stating the president's actual Israel policy (a paid link to the generic Obama presidential website notwithstanding). Without context, you can be sure Republicans today are once again happy warriors, doing their best to discredit Obama's foreign policy achievements in the Middle East, distorting or lying about his strategy for bringing about resumption of peace talks between Israel and Palestinians, and taking unbridled pleasure in saber rattling with regard to the nuclear threat posed by Iran's potential development of a nuclear bomb.
It's all talk, and especially for this crop of Republican presidential wannabes, it's all crap.
Republicans seem more than gleeful about taking aim at Mr. Obama's somewhat tougher stance on Israeli settlements in Gaza and the subsequent cool reception by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his visit to Washington last spring. Basically, Republicans want Jews to believe that the GOP is going to be tougher on Arabs and Iran, while also implying they would put less pressure on Israel than the Obama administration, which is clearly frustrated by Netanyahu's reluctance to go back to peace talks and has stated so, both privately and in some public pronouncements by administration officials.
Republican frontrunner Newt Gingrich argues, with virtually no evidence, that the United States is undermining Israeli security by pressuring Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians and to negotiate with Turkey and Egypt without putting equal pressure for reforms on those nations. He further charges that Mr. Obama's policies are weakening Israel by interfering in its internal affairs in criticizing the building of Israeli settlements within Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories. Republicans also slam the administration's efforts to keep Iran from going nuclear, calling them "weak." Even the Obama administration's tough new sanctions on Iran, with most allies' support, haven't impressed the Republicans, who accuse Mr. Obama of taking military action against Iran off the table. To that charge, I say, "Bravo, Mr. Obama."
But let's face facts: Republicans see the current situation in the Middle East as just one more political opening, like Christian orthodoxy about abortion. In this case, they're more than willing to exploit Israel's fear of a nuclear holocaust at the hands of Arabs for its potential to split off the 70 percent support Jews gave the president in 2008. Basically, they want Jews to believe that Republicans are going to be tougher on Arabs and Iran while also implying they will apply less pressure on Israel than Democrats to return to the bargaining table. "Gingrich: He'll go easy on Israel!" This is what passes for Republican policy talk these days: A bumper sticker in favor of appeasing an old friend, with no strings attached. But even history professors like Gingrich have short memories. For it was after all a Republican, no less than Iraq invader-in-chief President George W. Bush, who in 2003 made the Gaza settlements an issue and threatened to pull U.S. funding back unless Israel ended those questionable developments inside what are assumed to be Palestinian territory once an agreement were signed. So who's kidding whom?
Make no mistake: Israel is our one true friend in the Middle East, and we need their support and cooperation. But they owe us, too. We gave Israel about $3.1 billion in foreign aid in 2010, which is comparable to the combined total for Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, and the Palestinian Authority. Moreover, Israel is an extremely important strategic ally, with the strongest military force in the region. Supporting Israel lets us protect our interests (including access to oil) without committing our own troops. The Israelis themselves are standing strong against Iran’s nuclear threat. They also provide us with intelligence gleaned from their network of agents all over the Arab world. In short, we need them as much as they need us.
But, I do agree with the Obama administration's attempts to move the needle on peace talk. They won't come about through any Republican effort to make nice with Benjamin Netanyahu or his successors. Someone has to get tough with both sides, and if you agree, Mr. Obama is the only person running for president qualified for that job. That is Obama's policy and commitment. To peace. With all apologies to Google, of course.