The Election 2012 Weekly Report: Next Year in Jerusalem?

The Israel Primary: The main foreign-policy event of the campaign week was a forum hosted by the Republican Jewish Coalition, during which six of the GOP candidates attacked the administration’s policies toward Israel. Congressman Ron Paul, who favors cutting U.S. aid to Israel — as well as every other country — was not invited.   Current ...

Alex Wong/Getty Images
Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Israel Primary:

The main foreign-policy event of the campaign week was a forum hosted by the Republican Jewish Coalition, during which six of the GOP candidates attacked the administration’s policies toward Israel. Congressman Ron Paul, who favors cutting U.S. aid to Israel — as well as every other country — was not invited.  

Current front-runner and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich led the charge, accusing the White House of "one-sided, continuing pressure that says it’s always the Israelis’ fault no matter how bad the other side" and promised to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — a controversial move approved by Congress 15 years ago but resisted by the last three administrations — on the first day of his presidency. Gingrich also vowed to appoint former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton as his secretary of state.

Gingrich’s main rival, former governor Mitt Romney, devoted much of his remarks to Iran, saying "regime change is what’s going to be necessary" and promising to indict President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for the crime of incitement to genocide. Romney and Gingrich both called on the White House to fire Howard Gutman, the U.S. ambassador to Belgium who set off a firestorm of controversy with a speech that suggested a distinction between anti-Jewish sentiment in the Middle East and other forms of anti-Semitism.

Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, the former U.S. ambassador to China under the Obama administration, said Gutman’s comments reflected a deeper strain of anti-Israel sentiment within the administration. "These aren’t speeches that are cooked up at the local level and at the embassy…. They go high up within the State Department," he said.

Texas Governor Rick Perry, attempting to assuage Israeli concerns about his pledge to drastically reduce foreign aid, promised that "strategic, defensive aid" to Israel would actually increase under his administration.

Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann touted her personal connections to Israel, particularly her time volunteering on a kibbutz in 1974. She also said she does "not see presently that there is a road to statehood" for the Palestinians.    

Former Senator Rick Santorum compared U.S. policies toward Islamic extremists to actions taken by Britain before World War II. "For every thug and hooligan, for every radical Islamist, he has had nothing but appeasement," he said. Romney also accused the administration of appeasement with regard to Iran.

Obama: Ask Bin Laden:

Asked by a reporter to respond to the "appeasement" charge at a press conference on Thursday, a visibly testy President Barack Obama replied, "Ask Osama bin Laden and the 22 out of 30 top al Qaeda leaders who have been taken off the field whether I engage in appeasement. Or whoever is left out there, ask them about that."

Obama also defended his administration’s record on Iran, saying it has "systematically imposed the toughest sanctions" on Tehran and that the country is more isolated than ever.

Gay rights becomes a foreign-policy flashpoint:

The Obama administration announced a new initiative this week to use foreign aid and international diplomacy to promote gay rights abroad, for the first time identifying LGBT issues as a major U.S. foreign-policy goal. Santorum and Perry, two of the more socially conservative candidates in the race, were quick to respond.

"Obviously the administration is promoting their particular agenda in this country, and now they feel it’s their obligation to promote those values not just in the military, not just in our society, but now around the world with taxpayer dollars," Santorum told reporters in Iowa.

"This administration’s war on traditional American values must stop. Promoting special rights for gays in foreign countries is not in America’s interests and not worth a dime of taxpayers’ money," Perry said in a statement to supporters.

Perry’s comments seemed to be part of his slumping campaigns attempts to reach out to socially conservative voters, and followed a TV ad in which the candidate lamented "there’s something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school."

Huntsman backtracks on climate:

Huntsman, widely viewed as the moderate in the race despite a very conservative governing record, has distinguished himself from most of the candidates in the field by openly supporting the notion that human activity is causing climate change. "To be clear. I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy," he tweeted in August. But the candidate seemed to backtrack on that position in a speech to the Heritage Foundation this week, in which he argued that there "questions about the validity" of climate science and that there’s "not enough information right now to be able to formulate policies" on global warming.

Huntsman joins Gingrich, Romney, and Paul in the group of candidates who once allowed for the human factor in climate change but have changed their tune when running for president.

What to watch for:

The candidates meet for two debates in Iowa this week, the first on Saturday night in Des Moines on ABC, the second on Thursday in Sioux City on Fox News. With Gingrich still leading the polls, expect other candidates to go on the attack.

On Monday, Gingrich and Huntsman will go head-to-head in a Lincoln-Douglas style debate on foreign policy and national security at New Hampshire’s St. Anselm College. Gingrich, who has been openly critical of the format and moderating of previous debates (particularly when he was shunted to the side, before becoming a front-runner), has repeatedly expressed his desire for Lincoln-Douglas debates and has said he will challenge Obama to seven of them if he wins the nomination. Gingrich may be hoping that giving Huntsman a prominent platform may help him take moderate votes away from Romney in New Hampshire, where the former Massachusetts governor is still leading. Romney has declined Gingrich’s invitation for a one-on-one Lincoln-Douglas debate.

The latest from FP:

Despite the hype surrounding this week’s Jewish coalition event, pollwatcher Scott Clement says Israel won’t actually matter all that much in next year’s election.

Michael Cohen wonders why Obama is trying so hard to avoid the label "apologist-in-chief."

On Passport, Joshua Keating looks at an FP cover story by Gingrich from 2003 and the candidates’ ambitious plans for their "first day in office."

 Twitter: @joshuakeating

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