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Posts For: June 17, 2012

Israel’s an Election Issue … For Christians

Jewish Democrats have been trying to sound two themes simultaneously this year. On the one hand they have been saying what they have repeated for the past few election cycles: that Israel is not a major issue for most Jewish voters and that their party — and its presidential candidate — has nothing to worry about in the fall. Yet out of the other side of their mouths come equally fervent assertions claiming Barack Obama is Israel’s best friend ever to sit in the White House and that those who observed the endless fights he picked with the Jewish state during his first three years in office should not pay any attention to the man behind the curtain. While the claim about Obama’s status as Israel’s buddy is risible, it’s true that the majority of Jews will vote for the Democrats no matter what the Obama administration has done — or might do in a second term.

But though the discussion about the implications of the administration’s attitude toward Israel on the Jewish vote is not without substance, the issue may have far greater implications for an entirely different demographic: evangelical Christians. Support for Israel is a key issue for many religious conservatives and with Mitt Romney needing to be assured that this generally reliable Republican voting group will turn out in force for him in November, the GOP candidate is making it clear that the next administration will look and sound very different on the Middle East. That was the message Romney was sending yesterday when he told the Faith and Freedom Coalition, an evangelical Christian group, that he would do the “opposite” of Obama on Israel. The loud applause he garnered for his statements showed that there is an eager audience for a strong Republican stand on Israel even if those interested in hearing it aren’t Jewish.

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Jewish Democrats have been trying to sound two themes simultaneously this year. On the one hand they have been saying what they have repeated for the past few election cycles: that Israel is not a major issue for most Jewish voters and that their party — and its presidential candidate — has nothing to worry about in the fall. Yet out of the other side of their mouths come equally fervent assertions claiming Barack Obama is Israel’s best friend ever to sit in the White House and that those who observed the endless fights he picked with the Jewish state during his first three years in office should not pay any attention to the man behind the curtain. While the claim about Obama’s status as Israel’s buddy is risible, it’s true that the majority of Jews will vote for the Democrats no matter what the Obama administration has done — or might do in a second term.

But though the discussion about the implications of the administration’s attitude toward Israel on the Jewish vote is not without substance, the issue may have far greater implications for an entirely different demographic: evangelical Christians. Support for Israel is a key issue for many religious conservatives and with Mitt Romney needing to be assured that this generally reliable Republican voting group will turn out in force for him in November, the GOP candidate is making it clear that the next administration will look and sound very different on the Middle East. That was the message Romney was sending yesterday when he told the Faith and Freedom Coalition, an evangelical Christian group, that he would do the “opposite” of Obama on Israel. The loud applause he garnered for his statements showed that there is an eager audience for a strong Republican stand on Israel even if those interested in hearing it aren’t Jewish.

Romney cut straight to the heart of the most important current issue for the U.S.-Israel alliance: Iran.

You look at his policies with regards to Iran. He’s almost sounded like he’s more frightened that Israel might take military action than he’s concerned that Iran might become nuclear.

Though President Obama has also stated that he will not accept or be content to “contain” a nuclear Iran, Romney is right when he notes that America’s priority has been to try to deter Israel so that a dead-end diplomatic process will not be disrupted.

He also complained that Obama’s public spats with Israel’s government have undermined the alliance and vowed that any disagreements between the two countries would be conducted in private on his watch.

But perhaps overarching is this: I would not want to show a dime’s worth of distance between ourselves and our allies like Israel. If we have disagreements, you know, we can talk about them behind closed doors. But to the world, you show that we’re locked arm-in-arm.”

Though this is exactly what many Jews want to hear from the Republican, it may have far more traction with evangelicals who see the administration’s lukewarm attitude toward Israel as part of a raft of religious issues on which they feel the president is wanting. That’s why Romney used the same speech to denounce the administration’s attempt to force the Catholic Church to pay for services their faith opposes as part of what he rightly decried as the administration’s war “our first freedom, religious freedom.”

Romney needs a huge turnout of evangelicals — a group that often fails to maximize its numbers at the polls — this fall if he is to beat President Obama. As conservatives work to register and mobilize conservative Christians, expect to hear more about Israel from Romney. It may be that most Jews don’t care if Romney is more sympathetic to the Jewish state, but support for Israel is an issue that a great many Christians believe is a deal breaker.

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Russia Confirms Romney’s Evaluation

Mitt Romney was roundly mocked in March by the mainstream media and many so-called foreign policy wise men for saying Russia was America’s top “geopolitical foe.” He was accused of attempting to revive the Cold War and an derided for his lack of understanding of international nuance by those who preferred President Obama’s much cooler approach to the regime of Vladimir Putin which has included a failed “reset” and a hot microphone promise by the president that he would be able to be more “flexible” in his second term in dealing with Russia’s demands. But three months later, with Russia sending missile defense systems to Syria, it would appear that Romney’s evaluation was right on target.

The announcement on Friday that Russia would be sending advanced missiles to the beleaguered regime of Bashar al-Assad was a body blow to those who have been trying to convince the world that Putin was prepared to play ball with the West. The missiles are intended to help Assad fend off any Western intervention in Syria as the dictator continues to repress dissent and slaughter his people. The move is troubling in of itself as it will embolden Assad to stand his ground against international pressure and make any intervention to stop the humanitarian crisis there much more difficult. But it also reveals what has long been obvious to anyone paying attention to Moscow’s foreign policy ambitions in the last decade. Putin’s goal is to reconstitute as far as possible the old Soviet sphere of influence in the Middle East. As far as he is concerned, the discussion about human rights in Syria is irrelevant. Syria is his client state, and like his Soviet predecessors, he is determined to preserve it at any cost, something that will also have serious implications for the West’s attempt to stop Iran’s nuclear program. If that isn’t a geopolitical foe for the United States, then what exactly would one look like?

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Mitt Romney was roundly mocked in March by the mainstream media and many so-called foreign policy wise men for saying Russia was America’s top “geopolitical foe.” He was accused of attempting to revive the Cold War and an derided for his lack of understanding of international nuance by those who preferred President Obama’s much cooler approach to the regime of Vladimir Putin which has included a failed “reset” and a hot microphone promise by the president that he would be able to be more “flexible” in his second term in dealing with Russia’s demands. But three months later, with Russia sending missile defense systems to Syria, it would appear that Romney’s evaluation was right on target.

The announcement on Friday that Russia would be sending advanced missiles to the beleaguered regime of Bashar al-Assad was a body blow to those who have been trying to convince the world that Putin was prepared to play ball with the West. The missiles are intended to help Assad fend off any Western intervention in Syria as the dictator continues to repress dissent and slaughter his people. The move is troubling in of itself as it will embolden Assad to stand his ground against international pressure and make any intervention to stop the humanitarian crisis there much more difficult. But it also reveals what has long been obvious to anyone paying attention to Moscow’s foreign policy ambitions in the last decade. Putin’s goal is to reconstitute as far as possible the old Soviet sphere of influence in the Middle East. As far as he is concerned, the discussion about human rights in Syria is irrelevant. Syria is his client state, and like his Soviet predecessors, he is determined to preserve it at any cost, something that will also have serious implications for the West’s attempt to stop Iran’s nuclear program. If that isn’t a geopolitical foe for the United States, then what exactly would one look like?

The missiles and the lack of a Western response to this provocation will confirm Assad in his opinion that he has nothing to lose by continuing to ruthlessly exterminate his domestic opposition. He has rightly discerned that Russian weapons as well as the material support from his allies in Iran and their Lebanese Hezbollah auxiliaries means more than all the crocodile tears being shed for the Syrian people in Washington and Western European capitals. International opprobrium is no match for a determined and bloodthirsty ruler with the backing of allies such as these.

But the consequences of Putin’s virtual guarantee of Assad’s survival are more serious than the prospect of the continuance of his family’s decades-long reign of terror. By re-planting its flag in the Middle East in this fashion, Russia is sending a message that it is willing to brutally thwart Western interests and sensibilities. This should also sober up those expecting Putin to put his weight behind Western efforts to restrain Iran’s nuclear ambitions. With a third round of negotiations of the P5+1 group with Iran set to resume this week in Moscow, there is little doubt that the Russians (along with the Chinese) will not allow the Iranians to be backed into a corner. Though they have good reason to fear an Iranian nuke, Russia’s foreign policy imperative is always to sabotage America’s interests.

After the comical failures of appeasement of Russia that have been the hallmark of the Obama administration’s approach to Europe, it seems as if Romney is far more realistic about the Putin regime than either President Obama or Secretary of State Clinton. Though Democrats assume that they have the advantage on foreign policy against the Republicans, Putin’s provocations are a reminder that an alternative to the current approach to his regime is needed.

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