In the Arena

Romney: Wrong on Israel

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When he’s having a tough time–as he is this week–Mitt Romney’s first instinct is to attack President Obama. This is not a bad political instinct, if deftly done. But Romney’s execution is usually clunky. Last week, we had the Romney ad that pretended Barack Obama was saying something that John McCain had actually said–McCain wanted to avoid talking about the economy in 2008, a brilliant strategy. That was skeevy in the extreme, especially after it became clear that the Romney staff thought the controversy over their unscrupulousness would work in their favor (tone deaf politicians always assume the public is stupid enough to buy such stuff).

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This week we have another example. Romney’s press office has just put out this statement about the President and Israel:

“President Obama, in New York to raise campaign cash, told a group of prospective donors that ‘We don’t compromise when it comes to Israel’s security.’ That would be great news, if it were true. Unfortunately, under the Obama Administration, U.S.-Israeli relations have hit a low not seen since the Jimmy Carter years. It is not merely the way that President Obama has disparaged Israel’s prime minister in public and private. U.S. policy itself is at issue. Whether the question is peace talks with the Palestinians, or defining Israel’s borders, or keeping Iran from getting nuclear weapons, the administration has repeatedly scanted Israel’s interests. Words uttered behind closed doors in a campaign fundraiser in New York are one thing. Actions that have repeatedly thrown Israel under the bus are another.”

Actually, US-Israeli relations are better than they were when George H.W. Bush was President and Secretary of State Jim Baker threatened to cut off aid if Israel didn’t stop expanding its illegal settlements on the West Bank, and (then) in Gaza. And among the few good things Jimmy Carter accomplished overseas was the Camp David Accords, which has provided a generation of peace between Israel and Egypt, a peace now jeopardized by the Arab Spring.

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The other inaccuracy–alluded to in the quote above, but expounded upon in Romney’s stump speeches–is the notion that Obama wants Israel to return to its 1967 borders. He doesn’t. He wants the 1967 borders, with mutually agreed upon land swaps, to be the basis for peace negotiations. Somehow, Romney neglects to mention the land swaps.

The fact is, Obama’s policy toward Israel has been in line with that of every US President since Nixon. No American President has favored the annexation of any Arab lands. The fact is that US-Israeli military and intelligence cooperation, especially when it comes to sabotaging Iran’s nuclear program, has never been greater.

The real difference now is that Binyamin Netanyahu is Israel’s prime minister and, as such, he’s done something none of his predecessors has ever done–he has injected himself into an American presidential campaign in partisan fashion, against an incumbent President of the United States. The only recent precedent for such nonsense I can recall is Osama Bin Laden’s last minute attempt to influence the 2004 presidential campaign against (or maybe for) George W. Bush.

It is very much unprecedented for a candidate for President to side with a foreign leader against the American President. But given their warped disrespect for this particular President, it has become disgracefully common among Republicans this year. One would hope that Romney, as one of the few plausible Republican candidates, would eschew such cheesy behavior…would not misrepresent Obama’s positions on foreign policy so gleefully. But, if this race continues to slip away from him, I suspect that’s exactly what we’ll continue to see.

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