Between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s appearance on Meet The Press, warning of the Iranian nuclear program, the continued turmoil in the Middle East in the wake of the embassy attacks last week and a spectacularly off-key column by Maureen Dowd, the morning shows were dominated by the Middle East this morning, which incidentally happens to be Erev Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year’s Eve).
Although Netanyahu’s appearance on American network television was expected to be the highlight of the morning, he did a good job of staying on message and focusing on Iranian nuclear threat. The Israeli Prime Minister defended himself from charges that he was trying to play politics in the United States, stating his timing was driven not by “the American political calendar but the Iranian nuclear calendar.” Instead, it seems likely to be an afterthought compared to Dowd’s column.
Dowd, in assailing neo-conservative influence in GOP foreign policy, veered dangerously close to anti-Semitic tropes about Jewish puppet masters. In describing a foreign policy speech by Paul Ryan, she wrote “Ryan was moving his mouth, but the voice was the neocon puppet master Dan Senor” and of “a duty to invade and bomb Israel’s neighbors.” Although there was no prejudice behind it—it was merely Maureen Dowd being Maureen Dowd—it will be far more likely to spark conversation and controversy about the Middle East than Netanyahu’s rather anodyne appearance.
But what is most important in electoral terms is that the conversation this morning was entirely about foreign policy less than two months before Election Day. This is not an issue that voters tend to prioritize normally. Although Obama’s diplomacy has been less than flawless, it’s still far more friendly turf than the economy for the President responsible for the death of Osama Bin Laden to fight an election on. The debate may soon return to the economy and unemployment but, until then, foreign policy and the Middle East are receiving top billing.