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Mitt Romney’s Bizarre View Of The U.S-Israeli Relationship

During Thursday’s debate’s in Florida, Mitt Romney had this to say about the relationship between the United States and Israel:

(UNKNOWN): Abraham Hassel (ph) from Jacksonville, Florida.

How would a Republican administration help bring peace to Palestine and Israel when most candidates barely recognize the existence of Palestine or its people? As a Palestinian-American Republican, I’m here to tell you we do exist.

BLITZER: All right. Let’s ask Governor Romney, first of all.

What would you say to Abraham?

ROMNEY: Well, the reason that there’s not peace between the Palestinians and Israel is because there is — in the leadership of the Palestinian people are Hamas and others who think like Hamas, who have as their intent the elimination of Israel. And whether it’s in school books that teach how to kill Jews, or whether it’s in the political discourse that is spoken either from Fatah or from Hamas, there is a belief that the Jewish people do not have a right to have a Jewish state.

There are some people who say, should we have a two-state solution? And the Israelis would be happy to have a two-state solution. It’s the Palestinians who don’t want a two-state solution. They want to eliminate the state of Israel.

And I believe America must say — and the best way to have peace in the Middle East is not for us to vacillate and to appease, but is to say, we stand with our friend Israel. We are committed to a Jewish state in Israel. We will not have an inch of difference between ourselves and our ally, Israel.

This president went before the United Nations and castigated Israel for building settlements. He said nothing about thousands of rockets being rained in on Israel from the Gaza Strip. This president threw —

(APPLAUSE)

ROMNEY: I think he threw Israel under the bus with regards to defining the ’67 borders as a starting point of negotiations. I think he disrespected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

I think he has time and time again shown distance from Israel, and that has created, in my view, a greater sense of aggression on the part of the Palestinians. I will stand with our friend, Israel.

The first point to deal with here, of course, is Romney’s assertion that the President “threw Israel under the bus.” The comment refers to a speech that President Obama made last May regarding Middle East peace in which he said the following:

So while the core issues of the conflict must be negotiated, the basis of those negotiations is clear: a viable Palestine, and a secure Israel. The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine. The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.

As I noted at the  time, this caused an eruption of outrage on the right despite the fact that Obama was merely restating a position that the United States had taken regarding the Israeli/Palestinian issue going back to at least 1999, if not earlier.  That part of the speech is just partisan nonsense, though. It’s standard Republican fare when it comes to Obama’s policy toward Israel that’s aimed both at attracting the support of Evangelical voters who seem to have a loyalty to the State of Israel based largely on the Book or Revelation, as well as the naive idea that mouthing these words is going to cause significant numbers of Jewish voters to suddenly decide that they are Republicans.

The more alarming part of Romney’s statement though, and one that I doubt any of the candidate’s on the stage other than Ron Paul would disagree with, is Romney’s assertion that there should be “not an inch of difference” between the United States and Israel.” In fact, you can take Israel out of that statement and insert the name of any of our other allies, including our longest-standing and arguably still most important, ally the United Kingdom. No matter which nation it is that you’re talking about, there often are differences of opinion between allies, sometimes over issues that one of the parties finds incredibly important. The idea that Romney suggests, that an alliance means complete support at all times under all circumstances, is simply absurd. Such a position would lock the United States into taking action even when it isn’t in our national interests.  It was precisely that kind of trip-wire approach to alliances and treaty obligations that led Europe to march of to war in 1914 over what was really nothing more than a dispute between a decaying Austria-Hungary and the growing power of Serbian nationalists. Because one man got off a lucky shot on a street in Sarajevo, the entire continent of Europe was plunged into war. There’s very little about that kind of worldview that seems rational.  Every nation has its own interests, even allies, and they don’t always intersect. ‘Israel (or Britain or Germany) right or wrong’ is not a rational foreign policy, it’s a campaign slogan designed to garner votes that shows signs of a candidate who isn’t serious about foreign policy.

Daniel Lairson comments:

Consider the absurdity that the presidential nominating contest of the more American nationalist of the two major parties has been filled with candidates that cannot and will not distinguish between Israeli and U.S. interests. Their own words confirm that this is how they think about the bilateral relationship. Not only are these candidates mistakenly identifying the interests of the two states in a misguided expression of solidarity, but they are shouting it from the rooftops and implicitly finding fault with anyone who doesn’t conflate the interests of the two states as completely as they do.

Indeed, it is not uncommon to find anyone who disagrees with the conservative orthodoxy when it comes to Middle East policy condemned as “anti-Israeli,” or even anti-Semitic.  It’s an excellent way to shut down debate, and a tactic that comes right out of the Saul Alinsky playbook that conservatives condemn so much.

Ed Kilgore comments on the oddity of rhetoric like this coming from Republican candidates:

Isn’t it a bit odd, even somewhat unprecedented, for a prospective U.S. president to announce in advance that he is giving an ally a blank check to control U.S. policy in a major region of the world?

(…)

it’s one thing to suggest that the U.S. will naturally favor its historic ally in intractable disputes. It’s another thing altogether to outsource your policies unconditionally to a foreign government whose positions on matters of war and peace are more than a little controversial to its own people, particularly if your represent the supposedly hard-core U.S. nationalist party that claims it doesn’t trust anybody or anything other than naked self-interest and military power. Perhaps the refusal of contemporary conservatives to see allies anywhere else in the world—certainly not among those debt-ridden socialists of Europe—has made them hold Israel all the closer. But an awful lot of Israelis would tell you that giving this sort of total leverage over the United States to Bibi Netanyahu is not an act to be taken lightly. He will not hesitate to use it.

That, of course, is the danger of Romney’s comments. Give an ally a blank check and you end up creating a situation where you drag your country into a conflict that it neither wants nor needs. It’s fairly well established, for example, that the United States has dissuaded Israel from directly attacking Iran since the Bush Administration. Romney, however, would give them a blank check to go to war against Tehran despite the rather obvious consequences of such an action. That’s not only insane, it’s a policy that essentially says that the national interests of the United States must take a back seat to the national interests of Israel. For the Prime Minister of Israel, perhaps, that is the correct policy. For the President of the United States, it’s a dereliction of duty.

As a final point, I’d note that Romney didn’t even bother to address the concerns of the Palestinian-American Republican who asked the question that he was responding to on Thursday. But, then again, how many votes would that get him?

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Ben Wolf says:

    Romney wants U.S. policy to be based on what is best for a foreign power, rather than what is best for its citizens. Sounds like the man has treason in his heart.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 24 Thumb down 6

  2. Tano says:

    What is so bizarre about his views on this subject? They are actually perfectly consistent with his views on every other subject. They are a construction that reflects, to the best of his ability, his perception of what the people whose votes he wants, want to hear.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 1

  3. Ben Wolf says:

    @Tano: Because if he follows through on “whatever Isreal wants to do is cool with us” it’s bad news for the U.S. I see very little evidence the Israeli leadership gives a damn whether they harm our interests while in pursuit of theirs.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 2

  4. DRS says:

    You have to wonder how fast the back-pedalling would start if Israel elected a left-wing or Labour government. Not likely to happen in the immediate future, I grant you, but still it would be fascinating to watch the caveats suddenly appear in the rhetoric.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  5. Eric says:

    As a final point, I’d note that Romney didn’t even bother to address the concerns of the Palestinian-American Republican who asked the question that he was responding to on Thursday. But, then again, how many votes would that get him?

    Yeah and what he did was turn on the Palestinian-American Republican and blamed the Palestinians on the whole situation. He could have said, “Well screw the peace because Israel is our friend.”
    Romney might have lost a vote.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  6. merl says:

    @Ben Wolf: I figure that Romney is just saying what he thinks people want to hear. The man is a shameless liar and panderer, that’s a good reason not to vote for him.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  7. Moosebreath says:

    Romney’s view is not “odd” in the sense of being unusual. To the contrary, every Republican candidate in this cycle with the exception of Paul (and possibly Huntsman) would hav e said exactly the same thing. Just another example of how far off the edge the Republicans have gone.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  8. Barb Hartwell says:

    Why do most Republicans try so hard to make Israel out to be so great, that we should want to interfere with their relations with Palestinians. I read last week Republicans get a-lot of trips to Israel on tax dollars with family`s included and they use education to get away with it. Some right wing radio talk show host in Portland Or has gone there a few times that I know of to do his show. Is something up with this or is it coincidence.Romney should have said to this man that he was not privy to enough information to give an informed opinion to his question. It would have been safe an honest. I know honesty is not his thing..

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  9. Septimius says:

    You guys need to get your talking points straight.

    Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said she was “aghast that the leading Republican contenders for president tonight, including Mitt Romney, pledged to zero out the foreign aid budget, including the traditional and vital support the US has provided the Jewish State of Israel for its security.”

    She declared that “I cannot think of a more irresponsible, risky or deplorable position toward our most important friend and ally. That Mitt Romney and these candidates would sacrifice the security of the State of Israel for an applause line at a debate and to appeal to the far-right-wing Tea Party faction of the Republican base, shows that not a single one of them has what it takes to be commander-in-chief.”

    Wasserman Schultz added that “Mitt Romney and the rest of the Republican field clearly do not understand the vital need for the US to consistently stand by our friend and ally, Israel, and not only when it’s politically popular.”

    Romney hates Israel. Don’t you know that?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 7

  10. dennis says:

    As an aside to the topic, it just dawned on me why Republicans & far right conservatives irritate me so much; they believe they are better then everybody else.

    This little nugget is from Daniel Flynn over at Human Events:

    “Ron Paul has a way of making conservatives behave like liberals.

    They call him names. They grotesquely distort his record. They do their best imitation of
    an MSNBC host and strangely expect conservatives to join them in their two-minute
    hate.”

    He purports this as conservatives never behave like this. The hypocrisy is killing me.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  11. @Septimius:

    I don’t think that Schultz tumbled to their game. Israel gets military aid, not foreign aid.

    Are the non-Paul Republicans really ready to cut military aid?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  12. Brummagem Joe says:

    Oh boy Doug you’re demonstrating some threatening iconoclasm here. Lets be honest about this and admit that both parties are guilty of pandering to the Israelis and their lobby in the US but the Republicans are positively falling over themselves to put Israeli interests before those of the US in search of a few extra votes from the American Jewish community who overwhelmingly vote Democrat. It’s no accident that much of the Republican commentariat is composed of neoconservatives many of whom either have been or are descended from Trotskyists so they not particularly scrupulous about their methods. I’m bound to say that if it got down to it even Romney would almost certainly shrink from launching a pre-emptive war against Iran, and would veto such an attempt by Israel if he had knowledge of it (as did Bush btw). But it’s a classic case of the so called patriotic party putting domestic politics above the national interest.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  13. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Septimius:

    A bit of casuistry there by both you and Wasserman Shultz. The Democrats aren’t anti Israel and never have been. Shultz was attacking Romney for his plans to cut foreign aid budgets which btw would impact Israel so Shultz was turning a snapshot into a motion picture (I’m sure she has many Jewish constituents) just as you are.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  14. Septimius says:

    @john personna: Military aid is considered foreign aid. And, no. The non-Paul Republicans don’t want to cut military aid to Israel. But, can the Romney haters please pick a criticism and stick with it? Either he wants to sacrifice Israel like Wasserman-Schultz claims, or he wants to give them a blank check like Mataconis claims. It really can’t be both.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  15. steve says:

    ” It really can’t be both.”

    Sure it can. That is the essence of Romney’s career in politics.

    Steve

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  16. septimius says:

    @steve: Touche.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  17. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Septimius:” Either he wants to sacrifice Israel like Wasserman-Schultz claims,”

    As I’ve just explained to you, you’re indulging in some casuistry and comparing apples with oranges. Nice try though.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  18. @Septimius:

    There are plenty of good charts here on US sympathies over time and by party.

    FWIW, I think the decline of “favor both/neither” is really a 9/11 thing. Republicans, well Neocons, played up common cause with Israel against all Muslims. We haven’t fully recovered.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  19. grumpy realist says:

    I’m grumpy enough (see my pseudonym) to wish for a big asteroid to hit the Mideast and take out the entire zone of contention. Fight over the seabed, you effin’ idiots.

    (My boyfriend, who was from that area and fled as soon as he could to the US, summed up the entire Mideast as:”everyone there is nuts.”)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 4

  20. Brummagem Joe says:

    @grumpy realist: (My boyfriend, who was from that area and fled as soon as he could to the US, summed up the entire Mideast as:”everyone there is nuts.”)

    Of course we do have luxury of not experiencing the last say 300 years of the history of the area.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  21. Septimius says:

    @Brummagem Joe: No. I was just making a point. Wasserman-Schultz’s attack on Romney was a partisan distortion. Romney never proposed “zeroing out” foreign aid to Israel. He, and other Republican candidates, proposed zero-based budgeting regarding foreign aid. That means that the foreign aid budget each year would start at zero rather than the dollar amount from the previous year. Her attack was completely specious and given the “pants on fire” rating from politifact.

    Furthermore, Romney proposed exempting foreign aid to Israel from zero-based budgeting, all but guaranteeing that Israel’s military aid would not even be cut, let alone zeroed out.

    I never claimed that Democrats were anti-Israel. But, they are much more likely than Republicans to sympathize with the Palestinians.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  22. An Interested Party says:

    But, they are much more likely than Republicans to sympathize with the Palestinians.

    Those Democrats…damn terrorist lovers…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

  23. Ernieyeball says:

    Of course we do have luxury of not experiencing the last say 300 years of the history of the area.

    300 years????

    Some time in the late 1980’s (or maybe early 1990’s) Linda Ellerbee hosted a TV show on a weekend afternoon dealing with current events. One time the program had two groups of high school age students. Several were Palestinian the others were Israelis.
    She had them on the show to talk about their respective takes on the middle east at the time.
    The conversation went something like this.
    I do not remember who went first. I do not think that matters.

    “It says in our Holy Book that thousands of years ago God gave us this land and it is ours. We must fight for our God given land.” said one child.
    The other child said: “It says in our Holy Book that God gave this land to us thousands of years ago and it belongs to us. We must fight for our God given land”

    Since then I can only see one solution to this tragedy.
    Dig a huge hole and fill it with all the Holy Books and BURY them for all time!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  24. grumpy realist says:

    @Brummagem Joe: I think it’s because anyone who decided their children’s lives are more important than fighting over pieces of land has already left. They’ve only been fighting over that area for 2000 years or so, after all….so it’s a collection of the religious nuts and those who can stand living with religious nuts.

    As far as I’m concerned, all religious nuts are equally poisonous to a society. Aside from any Palestinian-Israeli bruhaha, Israel has been indulging its own religious loony-bin in definitely non-healthy ways. At some point they’re going to have to kick the ultra-Orthodox off welfare and tell them to get cracking, boys, at getting employed. Which means they’re going to have to put down the Torah and learn at least some skills useful to an economically advanced society. Good luck convincing them of that.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  25. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Septimius: ” Wasserman-Schultz’s attack on Romney was a partisan distortion.”

    I agree with you and clearly said so. She was cherry picking one potential and very unlikely consequence of a Romney effort to end foreign aid and using it to attack Romney. However, you were doing exactly the same thing by taking this one minor sideshow and suggesting an equivalence with the much wider and substantive point that Doug was making about Romney’s proposal to elevate Israeli interests above those of the US in the exercise of our foreign policy.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  26. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @grumpy realist:

    At some point they’re going to have to kick the ultra-Orthodox off welfare and tell them to get cracking, boys, at getting employed. Which means they’re going to have to put down the Torah and learn at least some skills useful to an economically advanced society. Good luck convincing them of that.

    Damned Socialists and those who give them blind support.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  27. Rob in CT says:

    This has become party dogma.

    A few sane voices like Daniel Larison keep pointing out the obvious, but they’re out in the cold (and would be in the Democratic Party as well, unfortunately, though the Dems show occasional glimmers of sanity on this issue).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  28. c.red says:

    Romney has made a fair number of statements like this over the last year or so (supporting Ryan budget, privatizing Social Security, military action against Iran, repealing ACA and replacing it with nothing, supporting DOMA – off the top of my head) that go quite a bit hard right.

    Yet when asking moderate Republicans, who have expressed concerns or opposition to some or all of those positions in the past, how they could support Romney I hear that he is actually a moderate based on his governing of MA a decade ago, and his current rhetoric is “just campaigning.”

    How does anyone (not a hard right millionaire) support this guy? By his own words over the last year (or four years to people paying attention) he is either a hard right reactionary that supports a blatant plutocracy or he is blatant liar. Either position one believes would seem to me to disqualify him from the presidency.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0