Your email is not valid
Recipient's email is not valid
Submit Close

Your email has been sent.

Click here to send another


GOP Debate Prompts Clash on Iran, Israel

Obama, Republicans won’t completely ignore this stuff over the next year

Print Email
Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, and Gov. Rick Perry at the debate Saturday night.(Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Saturday night, in their 53rd debate (approximately) and first nationally televised one, the Republican presidential contenders at long last tackled foreign policy head-on. Key talking points relevant to this blog: Several pledged to be very tough on Iran (tougher than the Obama Administration, they said), potentially up to and including military action to prevent the development of nuclear weapons; and several pledged to rethink foreign aid—except, they all caveated through their staffs, when it comes to Israel.

This was the odd part. Gov. Rick Perry, never shy about proclaiming staunch support for Israel, started it off by declaring, of foreign aid, “Every country would start at zero.” Added frontrunner Mitt Romney: “I agree with Gov. Perry. Start everything at zero.” To which everybody who was watching (even the Republican Jewish Coalition) asked: Surely he didn’t mean every country? Well, no: A Romney spokesperson told Ben Smith that Romney was referring to Pakistan and not Israel. “Obviously,” the Perry campaign tweeted, “Israel is a special ally, and my bet is that we would be funding them.” Obviously.

Democrats naturally leaped in to take their shots. Conservative Ron Radosh (a Tablet Magazine contributor) theorizes that the “start at zero” gaffe could affect Israel insofar as it reflects genuine popular sentiment: “In the current budget cutting times, we would see many left-wing Democrats and neo-isolationist Republicans begin to argue that the U.S. gives too much foreign aid to countries.” He needn’t worry. The incident reminded me of a similar slip-up that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor—the highest-ranking Jewish legislator in U.S. history—committed almost exactly a year ago. Cantor proposed that Israeli foreign aid be separated from other foreign aid, the better to cut the latter while preserving the former. His obvious pro-Israel sentiment got him little credit with AIPAC itself, which cautioned against isolationism. Cantor quickly recanted. In all instances, a Republican was moved by Tea Party isolationism, which is real, to utter something that rubbed pro-Israel folks the wrong way; their lack of foreign policy experience provided no stopgap to uttering something sure to catch the attention of supporters of Israel (and perhaps their lack of intelligence? It’s telling that everyone understands that Romney was simply misunderstood but Perry does not get the same benefit of the doubt). Long-term, the trends Radosh identifies probably should concern supporters of aid. Short-term, however, whoever is elected president in 2012 is going to continue funding Israel at current levels, in part because, structurally, the U.S.-Israel alliance is strong and makes sense for reasons external to either party’s ideology.

Meanwhile, the leader Romney, the surging Newt Gingrich, and the back-bencher Rick Santorum all slammed Obama for not holding up an intimidating enough stick when it comes to Iran. “If we re-elect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon,” said Romney. “And if you elect Mitt Romney, Iran will not have a nuclear weapon.” Here’s hoping he is, respectively, wrong and right! (And here’s hoping we remember to hold him to this five years from now!) Gingrich, whose reputation for intellect and detached persona makes him the Adlai Stevenson of the contemporary Republican Party (which says pretty much everything), alleged the president “skipped all the ways to be smart,” such as conducting covert operations or cooperating with Israel against Iran; presumably doing both doesn’t count.

In response, Team Obama has pushed back with insistences that the United States has greatly delayed Iran’s nuclear weapons program, and that its skillful diplomacy has even brought China and Russia around (somewhat). In a Haaretz op-ed being circulated, former Democratic congressman Mel Levine asserts that, on Iran, Obama has done everything the Republicans say they would do and accuse him of having failed to do.

The Obama side’s response is telling in two ways. First, in punching back immediately and forcefully, they demonstrated that, despite the predominance of economic issues in the coming campaign, foreign policy—and particularly Iran—will be important, too. And, second, in focusing almost entirely on Romney—the Levine op-ed is basically an exclusive attack on him—they signaled whom they believe their most dangerous opponent to be. (Hint: not Rick Perry.)

Up for Debate: Foreign Policy and Obama [NYT]
Foreign Aid to Zero [Ben Smith]
No to Starting at Zero [Pajamas Media]
At Least 3 GOP Candidates Say War With Iran Is an Option
Obama Has Kept Iran Threat at Bay, and U.S. Republicans Know It [Haaretz]
Earlier: Cantor’s Foreign Aid ‘Trial Balloon’ Is Popped
Perry’s Ascent Heralds Israel’s Rise as Issue
How Stuxnet Came To Be

Print Email

Daily rate: $2
Monthly rate: $18
Yearly rate: $180

Tablet is committed to bringing you the best, smartest, most enlightening and entertaining reporting and writing on Jewish life, all free of charge. We take pride in our community of readers, and are thrilled that you choose to engage with us in a way that is both thoughtful and thought-provoking. But the Internet, for all of its wonders, poses challenges to civilized and constructive discussion, allowing vocal—and, often, anonymous—minorities to drag it down with invective (and worse). Starting today, then, we are asking people who'd like to post comments on the site to pay a nominal fee—less a paywall than a gesture of your own commitment to the cause of great conversation. All proceeds go to helping us bring you the ambitious journalism that brought you here in the first place.

Readers can still interact with us free of charge via Facebook, Twitter, and our other social media channels, or write to us at Each week, we’ll select the best letters and publish them in a new letters to the editor feature on the Scroll.

We hope this new largely symbolic measure will help us create a more pleasant and cultivated environment for all of our readers, and, as always, we thank you deeply for your support.

Simon DelMonte says:

Um, why do we still give foreign aid to Israel? Last time I checked, Israel’s economy is doing better than America’s. Yes, I know a lot of individuals in Israel are having problems with the 1% that dwarf ours with sad ease, but when I was in Israel last year, I saw a thriving nation. Does a thriving nation need foreign aid?

No or very little change would take place with these three politics as usual candidates glamorized by the liberal media. Ron Paul , Herman Cain or Bachmann are the only hope for the country since the downslide in morals, pro-american morale, anti work, socialism/communism and the preferential treatment of islam sledge hammered on the american people by the obama admin.
It is debatable if even a ron paul/ bachmann could stop the american colapse at this point which is what obama/soros is counting on in case they dont get the count priveledges as they enjoyed last campaign. Babylon is right where it needs to be for the ecomomic and moral collapse they are contracted to bring about.

Simon-The vast majority of US aid to Israel is military aid which, by American law, must be spent in the USA. This is essentially a subsidy for American arms makers.

Bennett Muraskin says:

I am not so sure. Israel has received billions from the US both in economic and military aid since 1973. Not to mention loan guarantees and access to US military technology that no other nation receives.

Much of that has NOT flowed back to American arms makers.

American citizens are also free to buy Israel bonds, another source of foreign aid to Israel.

For Israel to be the single largest recipient of US foreign aid is quite a scandal, considering the strength of its economy–and the pressing needs of poorer nations.

neal sturman says:

people, if israel is in such good economic condition how is there citizens protesting in the streets by the 100,000’s thousands that they can’t afford housing prices. like carl said , the aid is mostly military which noone except for anti-israeli people should begrudge.

Beatrix says:

Both Egypt and Israel get American aid as a result of the peace treaty they signed in 1979. Israel’s aid is MILITARY, ¾ of which has to be spent in the Us. Egypt get both military and financial aid.

Israel has given a great deal of aid to the US in the form of military, medical, computer, and cell phone innovations. Anyone who purchases military hardware from America gets the same American innovations that Israel does.

Beatrix says:

By the way, Israel, a Western style democracy, is surrounded by 300 million Arabs, 75 million Iranians, 80 million Turks, and 8 million Palestinians most of whom would like to see Israel destroyed, and many of whom have physically engaged in wars and terrorist’s actions that have attempted to destroy her. That’s why we give her military aid.

It’s no more scandalous than our siding with England during WW2.


Your comment may be no longer than 2,000 characters, approximately 400 words. HTML tags are not permitted, nor are more than two URLs per comment. We reserve the right to delete inappropriate comments.

Thank You!

Thank you for subscribing to the Tablet Magazine Daily Digest.
Please tell us about you.

GOP Debate Prompts Clash on Iran, Israel

Obama, Republicans won’t completely ignore this stuff over the next year

More on Tablet:

Wolf Blitzer Explores His Jewish Roots

By David Meir Grossman — CNN host visits Yad Vashem and Auschwitz for the network’s ‘Roots’ series