Newt Gingrich might drag us into a war with Iran on the side of Israel. Rick Perry seems to envision the United States as a conservative Christian theocracy. No pledge is too extreme in the campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.

“I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a Christian,” Perry says in a commercial aimed at the ultra-conservative Christians likely to dominate the Republican Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3. “But you don’t need to be in the pew every Sunday to know that there’s something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school. As president, I’ll end Obama’s war on religion. And I’ll fight against liberal attacks on our religious heritage. Faith made America strong. It can make her strong again.”

With desperate politicians elevating religion to a place it never held when the country was born, it’s likelier faith will weaken America, or at least her founding principles.

Although Perry is far back in polling for the caucuses and Gingrich has moved into first place, the Texas governor shouldn’t be dismissed as a loser. Nor should his words be ignored. Unlikely as it seems now, this tongue-tied debater might do a Gingrich and rise from the politically dead before Iowa Republicans find their way to the caucuses.

Far more alarming — because of his present front-runner position — is what Gingrich said Wednesday when CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked what he would do as president if Israel attacked Iran without giving him advanced warning.

“I think if I were president, the Israelis would have told us,” the former House speaker replied. When Blitzer asked why, Gingrich answered,

Because I’m a clear ally of Israel. I am very close to [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu. … I would rather plan a joint operation conventionally than push the Israelis to a point where they go nuclear. The Israelis are not going to tolerate an Iranian nuclear weapon.

Blitzer: If the Israelis told you in advance, would you say go ahead and do it?

Gingrich: If they told me in advance, I would say how can we help you?

Blitzer: You would actually participate?

Gingrich: I would provide them intelligence. I’d provide them logistic support. Look, this is a line we have to draw. An Iranian nuclear weapon is potentially a second Holocaust. Israel is a very urban country. Two or three nuclear weapons wipes out most of the Jews who live in Israel. I believe [President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad would do it. … When you have people put on body suits to walk into a crowded mall to blow themselves up, you better believe they [would] put on a nuclear weapon. So, I think the world needs to understand, Iran is not going to get a nuclear weapon. All the world can decide is whether they help us peacefully stop it or they force us to use violence, but Iran is not going to get a nuclear weapon.

In other words, if Gingrich were president, the Israeli prime minister and his hawkish right-wing government would be calling the shots on whether the United States should get involved with a war against Iran.

At Gingrich’s side in this endeavor would be his choice for secretary of state, Iraq war backer John Bolton, who wrote in the Oct. 21 edition of the Guardian newspaper: “The unpleasant reality is that the only alternative to a nuclear Iran is to break Tehran’s program through the targeted use of military force, either by Israel, the United States or both.”

Gingrich was interviewed on CNN after he appeared with other Republican presidential candidates before the Republican Jewish Coalition, a conservative group that supports Netanyahu’s policies. Ron Paul wasn’t invited, not being deemed sufficiently pro-Israel. The rest of the candidates echoed the Netanyahu line, although Gingrich didn’t go as far as he did in his CNN interview.

As Scott Clement wrote in the Washington Post polling blog, “The issue may play a more important role in the Republican primary than the general election. Two key groups — conservative Republicans and white evangelical Protestants — see Israel as especially important.”

Obama, too, wants Iran to halt nuclear weapon development. But he believes we must continue to act with other nations.

“If they [Iran] are pursuing nuclear weapons, then I have said very clearly, that is contrary to the national security interests of the United States,” the president said Thursday at a White House news conference. “It’s contrary to the national security interests of our allies, including Israel; and we are going to work with the world community to prevent that.”

This is not a country governed by religious values. Belief in God is not a prerequisite for citizenship. Children shouldn’t be forced to pray in schools. The president and members of Congress — several of them Republicans — should be praised for finally permitting men and women to serve in the military regardless of their sexual orientation.

And this is not a country that should be governed by a politician whose reply to an Israeli attack on Iran would be, “How can we help you?”

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