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Perry, Speechwriters and Israel

Rick Santorum’s inability to break out of the second tier of Republican presidential candidates despite some spirited performances in recent debates must be galling for the former senator from Pennsylvania. But though his frustration is understandable, some of his attacks on frontrunner Rick Perry are not. Santorum has lashed out at Perry at every opportunity lately, but his assault on the Texas governor for having the chutzpah to agree with him on the Middle East verges on satire.

According to Politico, Santorum was angry Perry gave a speech in New York this morning denouncing the Palestinians’ attempt to get the United Nations to recognize their independence without first making peace with Israel. Perry also rightly denounced the fecklessness of the Obama administration that had made this diplomatic debacle for U.S. foreign policy possible. But Santorum was having none of it, even though he agreed with more or less every word Perry said. “I’ve forgotten more about Israel than Rick Perry knows about Israel. There he is, reading a speech, that I’m sure he didn’t write, and has never taken a position on any of this stuff before, and [the media is] taking this guy seriously.”

First of all, if politicians had to write all their own speeches, that would be, more or less, an end to political speeches in this country. That might not be a bad thing. But for Santorum to attack another pol for reading a speech somebody else wrote is pretty silly.

Second, it’s not true Perry has never said anything about Israel before. While as a governor he has not had to speak out on these issues the way Santorum did during his 12 years in the Senate, he did lead a trade mission to the Jewish state and has, from to time, made statements that pleased the pro-Israel community–such as his call for the prosecution of any American who took part in attempts to brake the blockade of Hamas-run Gaza. That doesn’t make Perry a foreign policy wonk, but it also doesn’t disqualify from speaking out passionately and persuasively — as he did this morning — on one of the most important issues of the day, especially if he’s going to say the right things. Nor does it mean, as Santorum also absurdly claimed, he has flip-flopped on Israel. He has never come out on the other side of the debate in the way that, say, Mitt Romney has on abortion or other issues.

Santorum does have a long record of support for Israel and, even more to the point, has a very good understanding of the threat to the region and the world from a nuclear Iran and its terrorist auxiliaries Hamas and Hezbollah. But Perry’s future as the frontrunner will be determined by his own ability to avoid mistakes, not by absurd attacks from a candidate with no hope of winning like Santorum. It is also one thing for Santorum to blast him on issues where they disagree such as immigration (where the Texan is actually in the right) or the HPV vaccine (where it is difficult to see how absurd attacks by either Michele Bachmann or Santorum will do Perry much damage) but quite another for him to lash out at Perry for agreeing with him on Israel. But maybe one thing Rick Santorum has forgotten is although he has spoken out consistently on foreign policy issues — especially in his disastrous re-election campaign in Pennsylvania when he lost in a landslide — that doesn’t make him the second coming of Bernard Lewis or even Henry Kissinger.


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