I sometimes think of Sarah Palin as an enigma wrapped in a moron. To say that she is unqualified for public office and intellectually-challenged is an understatement. But, few could dispute that she’s proven herself a shrewd political strategist who has built-up a base of die-hard supporters.
Palin’s staunchly pro-Israel speech—and her lapel pin with both the American and Israeli flags—at the recent ultra-wingnut Tea Party convention prompted gushing commentaries from conservative pundits. Over at The Hill, a newspaper devoted to covering Congressional affairs and U.S. politics, blogger Bernie Quigley declares:
In the end, coming to terms with Iran and coming to terms with al Qaeda is the same thing. It requires a uniform, unqualified, resolute American political temperament that we do not now have and as yet have never had. Because we Americans — American Jew and gentile alike — haven’t yet fully come to terms with Israel. And success with Iran and al Qaeda will require a resolute and unqualified American — not European, not the U.N., not the world — life-or-death commitment to Israel. Put simply, success in the Middle East requires full commitment by all Americans to the defense of Israel at all costs (lives, fortune, fate). Possibly the only person who can unite Americans in this way is Sarah Palin.
Writing in the Jerusalem Post, Caroline Glick opines:
If her address wasn’t enough to convince Americans – and specifically American Jews – that Palin thinks supporting Israel and standing up to Iran are the keys to US national security, then there was her interview on Fox News Sunday. Asked how Obama can win reelection in 2012, Palin responded, “Say he decided to declare war on Iran or decided really to come out and do whatever he could to support Israel, which I would like him to do.”
And if that still isn’t enough, there is her lapel pin. The politician who leads the populist opposition to Obama decided to make her most important speech since the 2008 election wearing a pin featuring the US flag and the Israeli flag…..Unlike Obama’s empty protestations of support for Israel, Palin’s support is obviously heartfelt and therefore will not diminish while Obama remains in office.
Many pundits have scratched their heads over Palin’s tendency to make Israel such a central issue in her interviews and speeches. Many simply attribute her position to her Evangelical beliefs.
But, writing in the Forward, Noam Neusner—who served as a speechwriter and Jewish liaison for President George W. Bush—offered this insightful commentary on Sarah Palin and fellow 2012 presidential contender Mike Huckabee. Neusner’s column focused on the issue of settlements, but I think it applies to Palin’s overall pro-Israel posturing:
In standing up to Obama on settlements, Palin and Huckabee have staked out positions significantly to the right of past Republican presidents. George W. Bush’s basic policy was: Build up, but don’t build out, and don’t permit illegal outposts. (Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush were even more hostile to settlements.) I don’t recall Palin and Huckabee complaining about the Bush White House’s stance on the issue.
It’s worth noting that other leading Republicans have found a way to take issue with the Obama administration’s stance on settlements without climbing out on the limb that Huckabee and Palin have. The House minority whip, Rep. Eric Cantor, has called the settlement issue “a distraction” from the bigger threat posed by Iran. “The status of the settlement blocks is something to be resolved in future agreements; it is not something we should begin pressuring Israel on now, when there really have not been adequate steps taken by the Arab states and the Palestinians,” Cantor told The Jerusalem Post.
So what explains the zeal on settlements from Huckabee and Palin? It could be that they sincerely believe what they say: America has no right to tell Israelis where to live. One can speculate that their religious convictions play a role shaping their views on this issue. Or maybe Huckabee and Palin simply don’t place much hope in the prospects for a two-state solution.
But their focus on settlements could also be seen as a calculated political move to distinguish themselves from the Republican pack. With virtually the entire Congress — Democrats and Republicans — reliably lining up to support Israel on the easy stuff, you can’t make your mark unless you take on the hard stuff and go further than anyone else.
And the settlement issue, of course, has particular appeal to Christian conservatives who believe God gave Israel to the Jewish people. Saying that settlements are Israel’s right is a way of telling Christian Zionists, “I’m with you.”
I don’t doubt that they have both arrived at their positions on settlements in good faith, though it’s unlikely they have devoted serious study to 42 years of American foreign policy on the issue. And, in any case, they likely see the settlement issue as a cost-free way of scoring political points against an incumbent president who is seen by many as the least friendly president toward Israel since Jimmy Carter.