Posted by on December 07, 2011 in Blog

By Jamila Benkato

Huntsman’s performance at the RJC has received lukewarm reviews, and indeed he did not seem to get the warm audience reaction given to Romney, or even Santorum. As the most moderate candidate in the field, Huntsman declared that he would not pander. “I won’t contort myself into pretzels” to win votes, he said, adding that he would not be signing any pledges or attending Donald Trump’s debate.

For the first portion of his speech Huntsman towed a careful line, largely talking around the central issue of the day – Israel. He made several vague references to the United States “speaking up about what it means to be a friend and ally.” There was no audience response to this line: perhaps they didn’t recognize that the line was meant to be a nod in their direction.

Huntsman briefly took on Israel at the end of his speech, before quickly moving on to the issue of nation-building. “It is time for the world to understand that we stand with Israel during this time of need,” he said, adding that “there should be no blue sky between us.”

An interesting point that begs the question: who in this world does not understand that the United States stands with Israel? Is this a point that has to be proven to anyone in the Middle East? Are there countries in Europe who have no idea that the US sends massive amounts of money to Israel annually, or that our administration has been anything but an honest broker in the so-called Middle East peace process?

Although the bulk of Huntsman’s prepared remarks concerned domestic issues, he did call for building here at home instead of nation-building abroad. Huntsman also argued that “as far as the eye can see in the twenty-first century, we have a problem called terror. And it’s not going away any time soon.” He called for a tactical and intelligence-based approach instead of the current massing of troops in Afghanistan.

While answering a question about Iran and sanctions, Huntsman revealed that while ambassador in Beijing he “had no closer friend than the Israeli ambassador to China.”

He cautioned that while the United States might levy sanctions on the Iranian regime, “the centrifuges keep spinning,” and warned that the United States must stand ready to prove its friendship to Israel during the next few years.  

A question about Ambassador Howard Gutman’s recent remarks about Israel led to a somewhat equivocal response from Huntsman. The next question, regarding a less-than-flattering review of Huntsman published in The Jerusalem Post, led to another equivocal answer–Huntsman refused to give in to the chance for heavy Israel-pandering, but also reaffirmed the important special relationship between Israel and the United States. While not “forcing the peace process,” Huntsman says he would “stand shoulder to shoulder with Israel in this time of uncertainty.”

Overall, this was not a very dense speech from Huntsman, and, as promised, contained minimal pandering. Unfortunately it also contained very little specific policy and lots of vague claims about “leadership” and “values.”

Video available from C-SPAN here.

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