Conservative presidential candidates rally for Israel

Gingrich slams Bush's Middle East policy; McCain: US must deny Iran nuclear weapons.

newt gingrich 88 (photo credit: AP [file])
newt gingrich 88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Potential Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich blasted the Bush administration Tuesday for its policy on the Palestinians before a crowd of Christian supporters of Israel. "If George W. Bush wanted to send a signal to Hamas tomorrow morning, he could move the embassy to Jerusalem tomorrow," he said to rousing cheers from more than 4,000 people from around the country attending a Christians United For Israel rally. The former speaker of the House of Representatives, who has strong conservative credentials, didn't hold back criticism of the commander-in-chief, whom he didn't address by the title president. "We are in greater danger than you can imagine. We lie to ourselves. We have suffered in the West an enormous defeat in Gaza. We have suffered a significant defeat in South Lebanon, and we lie about it. We don't have a peace process. We have a surrender process," Gingrich said, eliciting applause from an audience waving hundreds of American and Israeli flags. He also slammed Bush's new initiative to hold a meeting with Israelis, Palestinians and neighboring countries this fall: "Look in the proposals in the morning paper for a conference. With whom?" Beyond lambasting current US policy, Gingrich, who is mulling a presidential run but still hasn't announced his candidacy, also took aim at the country's "enemies, and many of our would-be friends" who, when confronted with Islamic extremism, "always somehow bring it back to Israel." Giving a list of examples, he drew laughter from the audience when he concluded, "If there are six terrorists in New Jersey, it's probably because they once saw a map of Israel." Earlier in the day, declared Republican candidate John McCain, an Arizona Senator, made a surprise appearance at the conference. He spoke about what he dubbed perhaps the "greatest evil" that the US and Israel have ever faced - radical Islam. The senator spoke unequivocally about the need to "confront Iran" to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons. He went on to say that should a nuclear Iran become a reality, he would be more concerned about Iran supplying nuclear devices to terrorists than about the country firing them itself. McCain suggested that the growing threats to Israel and the US were a product of a mismanaged war in Iraq, which had emboldened both countries' enemies. According to the senator, because of the Unites States' failure in Iraq thus far "the Iranians were emboldened, the Syrians were emboldened, [and] the north Koreans are emboldened." He said that even Russia had become more ambitious and that "Mr. Putin now wants somehow to restore the old Russian empire." McCain stressed the importance of winning the war in Iraq and explained that setting an arbitrary withdrawal date would be foolish. Instead, he said, US troops in Iraq should be given a chance to succeed. He quoted an op-ed written by Natan Sharansky in The Washington Post last week which said that the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq could spark a civil war not only in Iraq, but the entire region. "It's all connected in my view... if we bring about a secure environment in Iraq then that will have a beneficial effect on the Iranians and the Syrians and of course, on the security of this tiny little nation [Israel] which now has a terrorist organization running Gaza, and a terrorist organization in southern Lebanon, and is literally surrounded by enemies bent on its destruction," said the senator. McCain called the current conflict a "vast ideological struggle" against "everything we stand for and believe in," and stressed the need to ensure Israel's safety as the only democracy in the Middle East, questioning that "if we fail in Israel, where will we succeed?"