It was a simple yes-or-no question, but neither presidential candidate could say "yes" or "no" during their third and final debate Monday night.
Moderator Bob Schieffer asked both candidates if they'd tell Iran that an attack on Israel would be considered an attack on the United States.
Obama hemmed a little, hawed a little and then said Americans would "stand with Israel."
Romney hawed a little, hemmed a bit and then said Americans "have [Israel's] back."
That, gentlemen, was not a definitive "yes." The implication of the question was whether or not Romney or Obama would consider an attack on Israel as an act of war against the United States, with all that an act of war against the United States implies. "We have their back" fell several light-years short of answering the question.
But maybe Schieffer asked the wrong question. Or rather, he didn't ask the question I'd have preferred him to ask.
Were I moderating the debate on foreign policy, I'd have put the question this way: "Would either of you nuke Tehran if Iran attacks Israel?" That is the pertinent question. If an attack on Israel is to be considered an attack on the United States, then whoever is the American president has to send this message to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: "If you attack Israel, we'll nuke Tehran and other parts of your country. Iran will glow in the dark."
Tough talk? Indeed it is. But that's what Ahmadinejad needs to hear. And I'm saying this as someone who isn't necessarily a supporter of the state of Israel.
I'm not talking about Israel's "right to exist." That's already been established after 64 years of independence. What I find perturbing about the Jewish state is that it is now in year 44 of occupying the West Bank, seized during the 1967 Six-Day War. There were Palestinians living on the West Bank in 1967, as there are today. Israel's military occupation of the West Bank, I'm sure even Israeli leaders will admit, has been, to put it mildly, troublesome. People who are militarily occupied have a tendency to resent it.
The problem Israeli leaders face today isn't about their right to exist, or that nut job running the show over there in Iran. It's what to do about those Palestinians still living under military occupation on the West Bank.
And having sympathy for Palestinians living on the West Bank doesn't make those sympathizers anti-Semitic, or even necessarily anti-Israel. There are plenty of people -- neither anti-Semitic nor anti-Israel -- who feel the Palestinians on the West Bank have a legitimate gripe. That point was driven home to me several years ago during a discussion I had with a journalist colleague of mine whose beat, at one time, was the West Bank.
The journalist is a Muslim, one who doesn't hesitate to criticize the more radical, nut-job Muslims of his faith. He said that during his reporting he'd been accused of being both pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian.
"How in the world," I asked, "could you possibly end up being accused of being both pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian?"
"I just reported what I saw happening on the West Bank," he answered.
Israel needs to solve that West Bank Palestinian problem, because you can rest assured that if Ahmadinejad does order an attack -- even a nuclear one -- against Israel, he'll use the plight of Palestinians on the West Bank as justification. (Do you think Ahmadinejad has even considered how many Arabs and Muslims would be killed if there were a nuclear attack on Israel?)
So I'm no knee-jerk Israel supporter. But Ahmadinejad needs to know that he's to keep his nose out of Israeli-Palestinian business. There's no better way to do that than a nuclear deterrent.
Examiner Columnist Gregory Kane is a Pulitzer-nominated news and opinion journalist who has covered people and politics from Baltimore to the Sudan.