Republicans and the Hezbollah-in-Mexico Menace

Political campaign watchers seem to agree that the election will be about the economy, and that Republicans probably won’t have much to say about Obama’s foreign policy (partly because it doesn’t much differ from what a Republican president might be doing).

The New York TimesRichard Oppel has a piece today headlined, “Republican Candidates Aim at Obama Foreign Policy.”

So what exactly is the Republican case against Obama’s foreign policy? That it’s too soft on the Hezbollah menace on our southern border.

Oppel writes:

A small but revealing episode unfolded in the closing minutes of the last Republican presidential debate. After the candidates were asked to name the national security issue they most worry about, which had not yet been discussed, Rick Santorum cited radical Islamists in Central and South America.

Mitt Romney agreed, saying that Hezbollah, a militant Shiite group in Lebanon that is backed by Iran and Syria, was working in Mexico, Venezuela and throughout Latin America, posing an “imminent threat.” Earlier in the night, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas warned that Hezbollah, as well as Hamas, the Palestinian militant organization that controls Gaza, also were working in Mexico.

That the candidates would cite the same threat–one denied by the Mexican government, and which seemed to contrast with a State Department report that there are no Hezbollah-related operational cells in this hemisphere–was not a coincidence.

Oppel adds that “a major thrust of the Republican foreign-policy argument” will include this kind of rhetoric about Obama being “too soft” on the likes of “Iran, Hezbollah and the Palestinians.”

If a journalist is looking to inform voters, it might help to give them a sense of whether what these candidates are saying is grounded in reality. PolitiFact judged Romney’s Hezbollah comments “Mostly False,” pointing out that the claim appears to come from a paper by former Bush assistant secretary of state Roger Noriega–and that the paper argues that most of the activity in Latin America is related to fundraising–criminal activity that funnels money back to Lebanon.

The Times judges the accuracy of the Republican charges in passing–the candidates’ claims “seemed to contrast with a State Department report.”` The piece is far more concerned with the political strategy at work, and how Republicans might be trying to appeal to some Jewish voters with a message about Obama being soft on Islamic terrorists. It’s a strategy that will likely be a lot more successful if reporters aren’t going to call them out.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.