You don’t need me for comments on the Iowa caucuses and the 2012 race. These are available for you all over the web. Thus, the following comments will focus on three things: The caucuses, the Jews and Israel. See how far we can get with that.
At the top spots there are now three candidates. One is much too conservatively Christian to have any chance with most of the Jewish vote (but is well liked in some hawkish Jewish circles). One is much too isolationist and much too suspicious on Israel to have any chance with the Jewish vote (but is fast becoming the darling of the imbecile wing of the Israeli left). And then there’s Mitt Romney. Hawkish enough to get the votes of Jewish hawks; Moderate enough to be considered (and in most cases rejected) by Jewish moderates that aren’t happy with Obama.
On caucus day, Senator Rand Paul made references both on TV (CNN, Wolf Blitzer) and in other interviews to some notable Israelis. He named both the head of Mossad Tamir Pardo, and the former IDF Chief of Staff, Gabi Ashkenazi.
One should wonder: Why would a Senator from Kentucky remember the names of high ranking Israeli officials? There’s a reason: In Paul’s book, Pardo and Ashkenazi are ideological allies in his quest to prove that Iran isn’t as big a threat as some Americans claim it to be. That is why statements such as the one Pardo made a couple of days ago are so tricky. What he said is this: “What is the significance of the term ‘existential? If you said a nuclear bomb in Iranian hands was an ‘existential’ threat, that would mean that we would have to close up shop. That’s not the situation. The term is used too freely.” Ashkenazi is also reportedly one of the more moderate voices on Iran, and opposes military confrontation. But he has also said, many times, that “The best course of action is to go with sanctions”, a course that as far as I know is not one Paul would be advocating for.
Paul’s use of Pardo and Ashkenazi was not a fluke or sudden revelation, but rather one of the tactics chosen by the Paul team as a way of proving that Paul’s position regarding Iran is not as extreme and problematic as his opponents would want it to seem. It is quite ironic, though, that the candidate seen as least supportive of Israel is now utilizing those arch-Israelis to make his position more valid.
Evoking such luminaries of security and defense plays well into the story the Paul campaign rightly raises in every opportunity: Paul has support from American military men and women more than any other candidate. But just to make sure we’re all on the same page, I must say this: Paul’s usage of Pardo’s and Ashkenazi’s position is misleading. Both think that Iran is dangerous. Both think it is not just dangerous to Israel but to the region and to the world. Even if they oppose a military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, what they oppose is an Israeli attack – and would probably have a different view if asked about the possibility of an American attack.
Paul can trick his critics by using similar tactic on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Since most observers believe that “President Obama would be more aggressive in taking on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a second term”, as the Washington Post’s David Ignatius predicted, there’s an opening for Paul to both stick with his ideology (non-intervention) and be staunchly pro-Israel. In other words, all he has to do is attack Obama’s intention to pressure Israel (one caveat: this will give him another opportunity to fret about America’s financial support for Israel).
If you want to how Ron Paul might affect the Jewish vote – you should read this post.
If you want to know what Paul voters are saying about Israel – you should read this post.
Next time you hear about Evangelical support for Israel, remember that the Iowa Evangelical vote didn’t send not even one evangelical to the top tier. Romney is a Mormon, Santorum and Gingrich Catholics, Paul a Randist. The true Evangelical supporters of Israel – Perry and Bachmann – didn’t do very well.
Iran was the only issue of foreign affairs that was consistently raised and discussed in the past week. Iran is important, but one should still wonder: China, Russia, Korea, Europe, the Arab Spring – aren’t they all important enough to be worthy of some discussion? Well, Europe did play some minor role as a punching bag for the candidates, but not much more.
Here’s how the candidates fare on Iran, from left to right: Paul (do nothing), Romney, Gingrich (sanction, attack as last resort), Bachmann, Perry (not much appreciation for sanctions), Santorum (attack – the 2012 version of John McCain’s “bomb bomb Iran”). Bottom line: On Iran, as on other issues, Romney seems to be thinking about his possible future role as President and doesn’t want to box himself into positions that he would later regret. Thus, Romney was the one candidate that was not promising to move the American embassy to Jerusalem. He did not engage voters with provocations such as the Gingrich “invented people” position. Romney is trying to be as solid as Republican primary voters would tolerate on foreign affairs, but he will now have a problem: Ron Paul’s achievement will force him into discussing some of the quite radical ideas of the Paul camp. And Romney, while surely opposing these ideas, and while surely prepared to reject these ideas, would still have to do it in a way that would retain at least a portion of the Paul group as GOP general-election voters.