In the first Presidential debate, Israel was not mentioned. In the second debate, Israel came up twice - once when George Bush contrasted his support for Israel with John Kerry's ongoing quest for international popularity, and once when a questioner asked the Senator about the threat posed by Iran to Israel and the West.
Both times, Kerry failed to state his support for Israel, instead choosing to address other points. If that is not political suicide, it surely must be political bungee-jumping. We assume a clarification will be coming shortly - Kerry has an ongoing Israel problem, as was noted by Lawrence F. Kaplan (with an amusing correction to the Kerry spin here). This debate performance won't help.
Excerpts below on Bush's comment, the question to Kerry, and Kerry's alternatively-directed answer.
BUSH: No, I appreciate that. I -- listen, I -- we've got a great country. I love our values. And I recognize I've made some decisions that have caused people to not understand the great values of our country.
I remember when Ronald Reagan was the president; he stood on principle. Somebody called that stubborn. He stood on principle standing up to the Soviet Union, and we won that conflict. Yet at the same time, he was very -- we were very unpopular in Europe because of the decisions he made.
BUSH: I recognize that taking Saddam Hussein out was unpopular. But I made the decision because I thought it was in the right interests of our security.
You know, I've made some decisions on Israel that's unpopular. I wouldn't deal with Arafat, because I felt like he had let the former president down, and I don't think he's the kind of person that can lead toward a Palestinian state.
And people in Europe didn't like that decision. And that was unpopular, but it was the right thing to do.
I believe Palestinians ought to have a state, but I know they need leadership that's committed to a democracy and freedom, leadership that would be willing to reject terrorism.
And a bit later:
KERRY: Is it Randee?
JACOBS: Yes, Randee.
Iran sponsors terrorism and has missiles capable of hitting Israel and southern Europe. Iran will have nuclear weapons in two to three years time.
In the event that U.N. sanctions don't stop this threat, what will you do as president?
KERRY: I don't think you can just rely on U.N. sanctions, Randee. But you're absolutely correct, it is a threat, it's a huge threat.
And what's interesting is, it's a threat that has grown while the president has been preoccupied with Iraq, where there wasn't a threat.
KERRY: If he'd let the inspectors do their job and go on, we wouldn't have 10 times the numbers of forces in Iraq that we have in Afghanistan chasing Osama bin Laden.
Meanwhile, while Iran is moving toward nuclear weapons, some 37 tons of what they called yellow cake, the stuff they use to make enriched uranium, while they're doing that, North Korea has moved from one bomb maybe, maybe, to four to seven bombs.
And so on. Telling points all, we have no doubt, but what about the threat to Israel?
Ok, I'll 'fess up - I started grinding this axe a week ago.