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Obama's Middle East Speech Draws GOP Support, Condemnation

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LINDSEY GRAHAM
AP

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama had two Republican audiences for his Thursday speech on U.S.-Middle East policy.

One was made up of GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill, some of whom gave a surprising show of support for Obama. The other was composed of Republican presidential hopefuls who were seemingly competing with each other to come up with the most vitriolic responses.

Shortly after Obama's speech, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told reporters that he is prepared to go out on a limb for the president to support his plan for investing billions of dollars to spur democracy in the Middle East and North Africa.

"I am willing to take the bruises and stand by Obama to engage countries like Egypt and Tunisia and stay involved in Libya and finish the job in Iraq," Graham said. "I am willing to take American dollars at a time when we're flat broke, go back home and suffer the consequences of sending aid to Egypt at a time when South Carolina has 10 percent unemployment because I believe the Egyptian revolution is about a new way of doing business that's better for us."

Graham, who has traveled extensively in the Middle East, said he thought Obama made two mistakes in his speech, however. The first was talking about Israeli settlements, and the second was focusing on border issues without addressing the overall complexity of Israel-Palestine negotiations.

"Our friends in Israel are very upset that he only focused on borders," said the South Carolina Republican. "There are many other aspects of this deal that are being overshadowed."

But overall, he added, Obama "did a really good job."

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) said she was "pleased" by Obama's steps toward creating democracy in the Middle East but called for greater clarity on his goals.

"We did not hear a pledge from the president to cut off U.S. funding to a Palestinian Authority now aligned with Hamas, nor did we hear a pledge to veto the scheme to attain UN recognition of a Palestinian state without negotiating peace with Israel," Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. "On Libya, after almost 60 days of U.S. involvement, we have no further clarity on our priorities, goals, and the anticipated extent of our commitment there."

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) raised concerns about the president's call for a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders, before the war in which Israel occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. Israel has pushed back on such a proposal, saying it prejudges negotiations with Palestine.

"The president's habit of drawing a moral equivalence between the actions of the Palestinians and the Israelis while assessing blame for the conflict is, in and of itself, harmful to the prospect for peace," Cantor said in a statement. "Creating another Palestinian terror state on Israel's borders is something that none of us want."

Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), also signaled the need for more details.

"It's a little baffling that the President used what he called a 'moment of opportunity' to simply repeat what has been American policy for decades: support for democracy and free people," Buck said. Some of Obama's proposals will require congressional approval, he added, and "all require greater explanation."

But GOP criticisms on Capitol Hill paled in comparison to the harsh attacks from presidential hopefuls trying to stand out on the campaign trail.

"President Obama has thrown Israel under the bus," said former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. "He has disrespected Israel and undermined its ability to negotiate peace. He has also violated a first principle of American foreign policy, which is to stand firm by our friends."

Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) mocked the president for waiting months to deliver a speech that largely restated America's democratic principles.

"The fact that the president took six months to simply say that our policy is to oppose violence, support universal rights, and support reform epitomizes the sad state of American diplomacy," Santorum said. "No speech can make up for the lost time and opportunity President Obama has squandered."

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty said only that Obama's call for a return to the 1967 borders is a "mistaken and very dangerous demand."

Even former presidential hopefuls used the speech as an opportunity to take shots at Obama. Mike Huckabee, who dropped out of the running last week, said the president "betrayed Israel" by calling for going back to 1967 borders.

"This is an outrage to peace, sovereignty of Israel, and a stable Middle East," Huckabee said. "The president needs to worry less about the borders of Israel and start securing the borders of the United States."

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