Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, eyeing a possible run for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, laid down a strong marker on Israeli-US ties Wednesday at the Herzliya Conference, saying to Israel, “Well done, thanks, we’re with you, and we’re glad you are with us.
“Be assured that the overwhelming majority of American Christians are joined at the hip with American Jews in standing by Israel in this hour of turmoil, or any other time of crisis,” Barbour said.
“We believe in your nationhood, and we believe in your right to secure and defensible borders.”
Barbour, here as the guest of the Republican Jewish Coalition, is the third in a line of likely Republican presidential candidates to have visited Israel since the beginning of the year, following closely on the heels of former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu met Barbour on Wednesday, just as he met Romney and Huckabee when they visited.
While saying that support for Israel in the US transcended party lines, Barbour said there was a “troubling division” in Washington about the relationship.
“One point of view sees Israel as a problem,” Barbour said. “The people who take this point of view aren’t necessarily unfriendly to Israel, it’s just when they review the ledger of the US-Israeli relationship, they see mostly cost.”
Barbour said that “people who hold this view feel themselves correct to demand from Israel an endless series of dangerous strategic concessions, even though they should know by now that when Israel makes such concessions, in return all Israel is rewarded with is more rocket attacks.”
There is another view, however, which he said he shared.
“It’s the view that Israel is a strategic asset, not a liability,” he stated. “Our relationship with Israel enhances American strength: economic strength, technological strength, military strength and moral strength.”
Barbour, who worked in the Reagan administration as a political adviser, said that his views on the strategic importance of Israel were colored heavily by two events from the early days of the Reagan years.
The first was the IAF attack on the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981.
“A lot of people condemned Israel,” he said. “Even voices in the US government. From the perspective of history, Israel’s action has plainly served the strategic interests of every country interested in a peaceful future for the Middle East.”
The second event, he said, took place a year later, in the early days of the first Lebanon War when, “in a series of encounters, US-made Israeli warplanes knocked out onequarter of the Soviet-built Syrian air force, some 80 planes. Not a single US-built jet was lost.”
Barbour said the Kremlin must have been jolted by this loss.
“Sure, one could say that the Israeli pilots were better, but technology was passing the Russians by. The semiconductor revolution’s powerful consequences must have become apparent to Moscow; the primitive Soviet economy simply couldn’t compete in another arms race.”
Barbour drew a line from these events to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika and the eventual fall of the Iron Curtain.
While careful not to blatantly criticize US President Barack Obama, saying that he ascribed to the school of thought that criticism of US national security and foreign policy “stops at the water’s edge,” Barbour did say it was necessary for leaders to “recognize realities.”
“If a leader doesn’t honestly face the facts, it is very hard to solve the problem. And we must be judged, or we must judge our leaders, not based on hopes and intentions, but based on the actual results we achieve,” he said.
“Those who care about Israel, or about the Western world, for that matter, must recognize and focus on Iran as the crucial strategic issue: Iranian support of terrorism, its destabilization of governments, its military nuclear program and its goal of eradicating Israel and, frankly, destroying Western civilization and its foundational values,” he asserted.
Iran, Barbour said, is the “No. 1 threat today to peace and stability. To solve problems, you got to first face facts. Are there other problems? Sure. Can we and should we deal with other challenges? Of course.
“But we cannot take our eye off the ball. This is much better understood here than it is in my country.”
Photo by Dave Davidson
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