Not as big of a deal that Republicans will certainly make of this, but not entirely a nothingburger either. Alison Grimes, a state-level officeholder hoping to steal a march on the GOP and upset Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in this year’s midterms, got a question outside of her comfort zone and blew it. Asked about the Gaza War, the Democratic challenger gave a thumbs-up to Israel’s Iron Dome and its ability to protect Israelis from … the tunnels?
As foreign policy inches its way into a debate that has largely focused on the economy, Grimes was asked about congressional efforts to aid Israel’s missile defense system, known as the Iron Dome.
“Obviously, Israel is one of our strongest allies in the Middle East, and she has the right to defend herself,” Grimes said. “But the loss of life, especially the innocent civilians in Gaza, is a tragedy. The Iron Dome has been a big reason why Israel has been able to withstand the terrorists that have tried to tunnel their way in.
“My hope is that a cease-fire can be structured. Ultimately, I think the long-term solution though is not one we can impose. It has to come from within. It’s a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine.”
There are actually two gaffes here. Technically, there is no such state as Palestine yet, but that’s the presumptive name used for the end result of a two-state solution. In this case, though, the problem doesn’t involve the Palestinian Authority and the two-state solution, at least not directly. Hamas controls Gaza, not the partner for the two-state solution for “Palestine,” and the solution for the West Bank will be much different than for Gaza as long as Hamas remains in control there. The PA tried to intercede this week with a cease-fire proposal that it claimed Hamas had accepted, only to have the rug pulled out from under them a few hours later when Hamas disavowed the effort entirely. The two-state solution has only a tenuous connection to what is happening in Gaza.
The bigger gaffe is the Iron Dome comment. Iron Dome shelters Israeli population centers from missile attacks, not the tunnels; it’s an anti-missile system akin to the earlier Patriot systems used by the US and Israel. And while the election won’t turn on Grimes’ foreign-policy acumen, this isn’t a non-sequitur to the race either. The Iron Dome system is a joint project between Israel and the US; Congress funds the development and deployment of the system, and it just recently added more funding to it as the Gaza War heated up. As a Senator, Grimes would have to vote on further funding and successor projects, and it’s at least worth questioning whether Grimes has any depth on these issues at all. The mistake certainly makes her look ill-informed and ill-prepared for the office she seeks.
In the end, though, Kentucky voters will be less concerned with tunnels in Gaza and Israel, and more concerned with tunnels in Kentucky. The Obama administration has battled the coal industry and battered it with regulatory adventurism that seeks to, as Barack Obama once said, “necessarily bankrupt” coal operators across the country. This election will hinge on jobs, the economy, and Obama’s agenda for the next two years. The question for undecided voters in the state will be whether Grimes can handle the job and whether she will be independent enough to stop Obama from harming their core industry any further. This misstep may say something about the former, but Mitch McConnell and the GOP would be better served by focusing on the latter.