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November 12, 2012 5:00 pm

Former Advisor to Four Presidents Recalls His First Impressions of Israel

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David Gergen. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

BALTIMORE—The first time David Gergen saw the Middle East, while accompanying President Richard Nixon, he witnessed a stark contrast between Israel and the region’s other countries.

In Arab countries, Gergen only saw “desert and poverty” on that trip 40 years ago, but in Israel he saw a “garden” and concluded that “we can never let this disappear,” the CNN senior political analyst and former presidential advisor for Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton said at the opening plenary session of the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) General Assembly in Baltimore on Sunday.

“The innovation, the vitality, the spirit of those people is something that has continued to impress me to this day,” Gergen said of Israelis.

Regarding President Barack Obama’s re-election, Gergen said the commander in chief should now reach across the political aisle and “bring more people [in America] around him,” something Gergen said Obama is capable of doing.

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The Republican Party, meanwhile, lost the election because it “has come to be associated more and more with the radical right,” Gergen said. To earn favor in the eyes of women, minorities and young people, Republicans need to be “reaching out in new ways,” he said.

For all second-term presidents, Gergen said there is a “danger in hubris.”

“I hope that [Obama] can avoid that,” Gergen said, describing that second terms “are a lot tougher than first terms” because the president’s “power, domestically, runs down very quickly.” Obama is also likely to focus more on domestic policy than foreign policy because that is where his legacy will be defined, according to Gergen.

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