Mitt Romney: Israel's Friend Or Netanyahu's Mouthpiece?

Mitt Romney’s declarations on Iran and on the Palestinians sound suspiciously similar to Benjamin Netanyahu’s views. They might actually reveal the true political philosophy of Netanyahu — who, Ofer Shelah writes, doesn’t really believe in a two-state solution.

al-monitor Mitt Romney meets with Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, July 29, 2012.  Photo by REUTERS/Jason Reed.

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us elections, us, romney, palestinians, netanyahu, iran, hezbollah, benjamin netanyahu

Sep 23, 2012

The one thing to be learned from what Mitt Romney told like-minded fundraisers as revealed by Mother Jones magazine is that [Israeli Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu remains an excellent public relations person. Other than a few minor geographical mistakes – to wit, a future Palestinian state will not have a common border with Syria — they were inconsequential compared to those made by George W. Bush regarding foreign countries before he was elected president. Romney’s arguments — from their inherent logic to their wording — are all taken from Netanyahu’s philosophy. Considering the relationship between these two men, and between them and [American business magnate] Sheldon Adelson, it is unquestionable that Romney had heard these notions from the Israeli PM. 

Romney’s fairly bizarre warning about the ramifications of a nuclear Iran goes to show that the real dangers — ranging from Israel’s security to regional stability — do not interest him or his supporters. Iran, the Republican nominee stated, would transfer nuclear material to the Hezbollah which could be used as a “dirty bomb” and smuggled to Chicago or anywhere else in the United States. A statement to this effect unveils ignorance about the issue at hand. Nuclear capability is not required to build a dirty bomb. All it takes is a bit of nuclear waste from a facility, the likes of which can be found in many countries. But beyond that, this assertion has had a familiar ring to people who had been briefed by Netanyahu in recent months. He, too, warned of a nuclear terror attack that would be perpetrated in Israel by the Hezbollah, using material smuggled from Iran. If that’s the case, Romney proved one thing: He can echo things he’s heard from somebody else.

In this respect, Romney’s statement on the Middle East reflects Netanyahu’s worldview more so than it does on his own, assuming he even has one concerning the Middle East. The following determination will not come as a surprise to anyone in Israel, albeit the prime minister is too cautious to utter it even in what is considered to be his home turf: Netanyahu, too, does not truly believe in a two-state solution, although he is willing to occasionally pronounce such words in a speech. But like Romney, he also believes in the need to “roll the ball forward on the pitch,” bide time, and pay lip service to a solution — you just can’t believe the Palestinians, and any arrangement would be a bad one. As noted, this does not come as a surprise, and, according to polls in Israel, it is also a prevalent opinion. Romney only confirms, by way of inference, that this is what the prime minister tells people with whom he believes he shares a similar school of thought.

What Bibi wants

What is of interest in the United States is obviously not statements about the Middle East, which the Americans cannot be bothered with, but rather the denigrating attitude toward Obama’s constituents. Here’s the quote from earlier this week with which the White House has had a field day: 

      “There are 47% of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47% who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what …These are people who pay no income tax.”

There’s no need for an in-depth analysis to understand the damage that this statement has caused (nor is there a need to recall the millionaire Romney’s low tax bracket). Needless to point out that his audience found this statement to be mellifluous. They faithfully represent the mindset of the white, rich class — in his own eyes the standard-bearers of America poised to defend it against those wishing to eliminate it, chief among them Obama. The content is so problematic that the American political media, which for the most part supports Obama and even more so loathes Romney, has naturally latched on to. They focused on trifles, including the history of Marc Leder, the owner of Sun Capital Partners Inc., and the man who hosted the fundraiser. The New York Post carried stories about sex parties, while the Huffington Post added that a fifth of the companies in which Sun Capital had invested money went bankrupt. This entire affair emerges as yet another colossal own-goal, to use a soccer analogy, for the Republican nominee.

Romney’s campaign is faltering. The website Politico unveiled this week serious disagreements around him, which are typical of a problematic election campaign when there is no uniform message and when close associates bicker on how to repair the damage while exacerbating it. Right-wing circles level harsh criticism at Stewart Stevens, the campaign’s chief strategist. A seasoned political professional, he believes in a campaign that irks nobody, pulls to the center, and dulls the message. The neo-conservatives that surround Romney, who was not their favorite candidate to begin with, want an aggressive campaign that expresses their view of Obama — an un-American Satan. Authors of books on President Obama, such as The Great Destroyer or The Amateur, don’t think it would do Romney any good to hide behind vague messages, and when the current strategy yields no results.

But within our [Israeli] context, we would be well-advised to understand what Romney has said, which places him in the traditional pigeonhole of “Israel’s friend.” The people who yearn for the Republican nominee’s victory would do well not to think that if he does become president he would be a loyal friend of the Likud caucus. They would do even better not to think that Romney would quickly fulfill Netanyahu’s desire, largely to launch an American strike against Iran. Even in his informal talk as quoted in Mother Jones, Romney did not promise to attack Iran. He didn't even entertain the thought. 

Just as Obama will never commit to “red lines” — a thing that an American president simply does not do under duress from a protectorate — so will a nominee never announce that he will go to war. More importantly, however, if the past teaches us anything, it is that Romney has no preliminary intention of doing so. Maybe if he is elected, this will come to pass, as has inadvertently happened to every American president. 

As noted earlier, George W. Bush knew very little about foreign affairs before being elected president. Moreover, with regard to the Middle East, Bush thought that his predecessor, Bill Clinton, had been wrong to invest himself and American prestige in an abortive peace process. In the first eight months of his presidency, while the Second Intifada [that started in September 2000] was turning out to be a bloody war, Bush remained on the sidelines. 

Obviously the events of 9/11 were the watershed. Ultimately, Bush found himself waging not one but two wars, both of which have become the longest in American history. An American president, surely in such days when the domestic and economic fronts dominate the scene, and certainly a man like Romney, will not go to war so fast, unless American interests are seriously compromised. It took a great deal to drag the United States into both World Wars.

What Romney told his supporters were actually arguments why the United States should stay out [of the Iranian file]. This sheds an even stranger light on the senseless campaign Netanyahu has been leading against an incumbent president, as overwhelmingly perceived by the American media. If what the prime minister wants is an active president that will go into a war that’s good for Israel, it isn’t Romney. If, on the other hand, he wants someone to let him continue to do nothing on the Palestinian issue, pass the buck and make sure nobody brings it back, Romney is indeed the best partner ever.

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