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Daniels Flunks the Israel Test

While his potential opponents such as Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, and Michelle Bachmann jumped all over President Obama for his Middle East speech yesterday, Mitch Daniels reaction’s reaction was rather cool. According to Politico, Daniels had this to say about Obama’s demand that the 1967 lines be the starting point for peace negotiations in the future:

What is going on in the Arab world these days has little or nothing to do with Israel or Palestine, it has to do with tyrannical regimes which have really stifled prospects for their people who are now restless for a better life. . . . I don’t think right now it pays very much of a dividend to try to cut the Gordian Knot of Israel and Palestine.

Daniels is right that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has nothing to do with the Arab Spring. But he failed to note how Obama had tilted the diplomatic playing toward the Palestinians or the significance of the 1967 lines for efforts to re-partition Jerusalem (a point that Pawlenty highlighted). Nor did notice, as Bachmann and Romney did, the fact that this was clearly intended as an insult to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who arrives in the United States today for a visit.

While Politico’s Ben Smith approvingly notes the bipartisan tone that Daniels seems to be adopting, it is somewhat unusual these days for someone who is thinking of running for president to fail to take an opportunity to demonstrate his support for Israel and to criticize the incumbent for taking a swipe at the Jewish state.

One obvious conclusion to be drawn from this is that he really is a disciple of Indiana Senator Richard Lugar, one of the leading foreign policy “realists” in Washington, who has always been cool to Israel. Daniels was an aide to Lugar in his youth and while that wouldn’t necessarily mean that he had adopted the senator’s philosophy on all things, it is not an insignificant fact.

Daniels has always been something of a cipher on foreign policy. As for his support for Israel, the sum total of proof provided by his friends of his affection for the Jewish state was one speech given at an ADL dinner. On the other side of the ledger, there was his recent appearance at a dinner given by the Arab-American Institute, a left-leaning anti-Israel group that honored him because the Indiana governor’s grandparents came from Syria. While his heritage means nothing in this discussion, his reaction to the president’s speech does tell us he doesn’t appear to have strong feelings about American support for the Jewish State.

Daniels admitted to journalists earlier this month that he didn’t feel he was prepared to debate President Obama on the topic. But on the basis of his reaction to yesterday’s speech, it doesn’t appear as if he found much to disagree with Obama’s positions on the Middle East. That’s bad news for those who hoped to build support for his presidential candidacy in the Jewish community as well as among Evangelical Christians who already didn’t think much of him.


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