For those of us who have been following the interaction between presidential candidates and the pro-Israel candidates for longer than the last couple of election cycles, yesterday’s pledge by Newt Gingrich to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem was a blast from the past. Such promises were a time-honored ritual for decades until the blatant insincerity of these statements caused both the Jews and the candidates to halt the charade.
But Gingrich’s other big promise to the RJC was far more intriguing. By saying that he would appoint John Bolton as secretary of state, Gingrich was laying down a firm claim on the affections of Republicans who care about national security and the need to assert a strong foreign policy. It’s not clear that he can make good on this pledge any more than he can actually move the embassy, but by anointing Bolton as his chosen foreign affairs expert, Gingrich has at the very least ended any uncertainty about the direction he’d like his presidency to take.
It’s not certain whether a President Gingrich could make good on his embassy pledge even if he intends to. The move would kick up a rumpus and, no doubt, lead to bloody riots throughout a Muslim world that is still not reconciled to Israel’s existence, let alone the Jewish state’s possession of its ancient capital. But it must be said that even if the promise was the result of pure political opportunism on Gingrich’s part, it does lay down a marker that is of some value. No matter what he actually does as president, assuming, that is, he can actually be elected, Gingrich would assume office sending a clear signal he wished to rekindle the closeness between the U.S. and Israel that has become a casualty of the Obama presidency.
As for Bolton, considering that the former ambassador to the United Nations (who pondered but ultimately rejected his own presidential bid) hasn’t endorsed Gingrich and has said he’s staying neutral, Gingrich’s promise was certainly unusual. For a candidate who has flipped and flopped on the conflicts in Iran, Iraq and Libya more than Mitt Romney has done on abortion, to undertake to appoint the most stalwart advocate of an assertive U.S. foreign policy on the current scene is an interesting turn of events. At the very least, it is an attempt to make sure Republicans understand that Gingrich is abandoning his flirtation with the neo-isolationist wing of the party that the former Speaker has at times seemed to embrace in the last decade. Bolton is a voice of reason and a truth-teller, which would make him an excellent secretary of state as well as a wise counselor to any president.
Of course, there is no guarantee even if Gingrich wins in November that he can have his choice, because it must be remembered that Bolton did not even win confirmation from the Senate for the UN post and had to be satisfied with a relatively brief recess appointment.
Nevertheless, Gingrich’s Bolton promise is one that conservatives should file away and hold him to in the event that his current surge lasts all the way to victory next November. While he may not redeem it as easily as Romney’s pledge to make his foreign trip after the election to Israel (a barb aimed at Obama who has pointedly left it off his travel itineraries to the Middle East during his three years in office), it is one that, if kept, would help transform American foreign policy for the better.