Posted by on October 04, 2011 in Blog

As the 2012 election draws nearer, AAI President Jim Zogby once again heads to Iowa and New Hampshire to meet with voters, activists, and newspaper editorial boards. Four years ago Jim made a similar trip, where he was met with thoughtful questions and engaged crowds, particularly on issues related to the Middle East. Voters in Iowa and New Hampshire in 2007 seemed eager to learn more about the challenges faced by the U.S. in the region, but also cognizant of the need for a new foreign policy direction.

Iowan’s concern for the Middle East peace process had a profound effect on the 2008 election and the debate among candidates about foreign policy challenges. Barack Obama was questioned about the plight of the Palestinian people in Iowa by activists in 2007, which prompted Obama to lay out a more balanced stance on the Israeli Palestinian conflict and the road to peace than any other candidate in the ’08 race. After restating his belief in the centrality of the US-Israel strategic relationship, Obama went on to say that "no one is suffering more than the Palestinian people." He continued by suggesting that "if we could get some movement among the Palestinian leadership, what I'd like to see is a loosening up of some of the restrictions on providing aid directly to the Palestinian people." He then made reference to "heavy stones Israel must carry if there is to be progress for its peace", noting specifically the settlement issue.

The backlash from some pro-Israel forces on Obama’s Iowa comments was intense and immediate. In response, Iowans again showed their concern, thoughtfulness and foresight regarding U.S. policy toward the Middle East. Seeing the intimidation Obama faced over his comments in Iowa a group of Iowans responded with an open letter signed by activists across the state. The letter, urging the then-Senator Obama to stand his ground, read: "We have noted with concern the harshness of criticism you have received .... Your campaign has been built around a new brand of politics that offers hope to Americans eager for courageous, moral leadership. We thank you for extending this approach to a conflict which has historically suffered from a lack of American vision, engagement, and leadership. As Iowans, we have long advocated a foreign policy that reflects America's values and commitment to justice and peace. Your compassion and support for the establishment of a Palestinian state and the security of Israel are consistent with the positions taken by Iowa citizens for many years."

Iowa’s clear position of concern for the Palestinian people prompted many one-sided pro-Israel commentators to criticize Iowans’ role in driving the national debate, claiming that the state was not representative of the rest of the country. Some even laid out paranoiac charges against Jim Zogby, alleging that he held some sort of undue sway over Iowan voters, and therefore the national debate. Jim’s rebuttal was two-fold. Iowans, Jim asserted, are engaged and passionate voters who care about the issues. They are not “swayed” one way or the other, but rather seek out information in order to make the best voting decisions they can. Jim went on to say “While some complain that Iowa or New Hampshire, are not representative of the rest of the nation, in fact, they are. Though most of Iowa's ethnic, racial and interest groups are small, they take their responsibilities seriously, knowing that they will get the chance to raise the issues and ask the questions that the rest of America needs to have answered.”

Jim’s first stop will be The University of New Hampshire- Manchester, where he will illuminate a vastly-misunderstood region with the help of new, comprehensive Zogby polling and dispel the mythologies and half-truths that shape thinking about the Arab region. Jim then will head to Iowa where he will first visit with the Iowa United Nations Association to deliver a speech entitled “The Challenges We Face.” A staple of all visits, Jim will meet with the editorial boards of both the Des Moines Register and the Cedar Rapids Gazette. Finally, he will address members of the Arab American community in Iowa at the Islamic Center of Cedar Rapids, the oldest mosque in America.

As Jim returns to these early primary states in advance of the 2012 election, he expects to encounter more of the same from voters in Iowa and New Hampshire. Voters in these two states are likely to be just as eager to learn about the plethora of new challenges in the Middle East that have emerged over the past four years. As always, Iowa and New Hampshire voters will take it upon themselves to gather the information they need in order to ask candidates the tough questions. Hopefully, the seriousness with which Iowa and New Hampshire voters approach their responsibilities will once again affect change and drive the debate and rhetoric of the 2012 campaign in a direction that is beneficial to all Americans.

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