Washington Watch: Will Romney outsource foreign policy?

If Romney has a successful visit he can expect more millions from Adelson and so can Netanyahu.

Mitt Romney on the campaign trail 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Mitt Romney on the campaign trail 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Earlier in this space I noted how Mitt Romney seems to emulate Groucho Marx’s famous line, “I have my principles, and if you don’t like them, I have others.” That was on display again last week when he was tied in knots contradicting himself and his top advisers on both immigration and Romneycare following two key Supreme Court decisions.
Romney may also have a Nixonian trait.
No, I’m not saying he’s a crook or paranoid, but he does appear obsessed with secretiveness.
During the 1968 presidential campaign, Nixon’s aides said he had a secret plan to end the Vietnam War but refused to talk about it. Romney seems to be following that line on immigration, tax reform (beyond cutting taxes for himself and his fellow multi-millionaires), blocking Iranian nukes, Middle East peace and Israel (we’ll get to that shortly) and his own personal finances and secret offshore bank accounts.
It turned out the secret of Nixon’s secret plan was that he didn’t have one. In fact, he was actually conspiring to extend the war by sabotaging peace talks underway in Paris. In order to deny any possible advantage for the Democrats, Nixon’s operatives were telling each side that he could get it a better deal than LBJ could offer, so just hang in until after the election.
Hearing some presidential historians discussing that episode recently made me wonder whether Mitt Romney might be tempted to pull a Nixon when he goes to the Middle East later this summer.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met last week in Paris with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and next week will be in Israel to see Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to talk about reviving the peace process plus dealing with Syria, Iran and the new Islamist Egyptian government.
The centerpiece of Romney’s outreach to Jewish voters and donors and to other friends of Israel is to attack Barack Obama as an unreliable supporter of the Jewish state, hurling charges that the incumbent has tossed Israel “under the bus” and vowing to do the opposite of whatever Obama has done.
THAT STRATEGY conveniently ignores Obama’s increased aid for Israel, commitments to provide previously denied top-ofthe- line weapons systems, leadership in thwarting Iran’s nuclear ambitions and efforts to block the Palestinian bid for UN recognition. And it raises the question of whether Romney would tell both sides “I can get you a better deal” and then when they complain about the results blame it on Obama.
Will Netanyahu give his friend Romney some message of flexibility to take to the Palestinians so the GOP candidate can boast he is better suited to help make peace than Obama? Romney, who has not revealed his Middle East itinerary, may also make a stop in Cairo to upstage Obama by meeting Egypt’s newly elected president, Mohamed Mursi, before the American president gets a chance to see him in September. Obama invited Mursi to get together this fall when the Islamist leader is expected to attend the United Nations General Assembly.
Romney’s trip to Israel is a smart move but not as unique as his supporters portray it. He is following the example of Barack Obama and George W. Bush, who went prior their elections. Republicans are bashing Obama for not visiting Israel during his first term, and they’ve got a good point. Only Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton went during their first (and Carter’s only) term; in fact, Clinton went three times.
Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush never went once; Bush 43 waited until late in his second term, as did Nixon.
Obama managed to fly over and around Israel but never found time to stop in to say “Shalom.” Aides privately said he didn’t want to appear to be backing Netanyahu, who they felt was working overtime to undermine the American president and his policies. The reality is the main beneficiary would be the president himself, who badly needed to overcome the image among Israelis that “he doesn’t care about us” and take his peace policies directly to the Israeli people by going over the head of the prime minister, who had done the same while here.
Democrats are having some success in hitting Romney for outsourcing American jobs, and this Israel trip may add a new dimension to those attacks. Romney said in one of the debates, “We will not have an inch of difference between ourselves and our ally Israel,” and before taking any action regarding the Middle East “I’d get on the phone to my friend Bibi Netanyahu and say: ‘Would it help if I say this? What would you like me to do?’” That sounds a lot like Romney plans to contract out Middle East policy to Netanyahu, who he’s known since their days as young MBAs at the Boston Consulting Group in the Seventies.
NETANYAHU’S DISDAIN for Obama is no secret, and Romney’s statements indicating that as president he would take his cues on Middle East policy, if not directions, from Netanyahu makes this trip unusually sensitive. Netanyahu once told an interviewer “I speak Republican” and his senior adviser, Ron Dermer, was a Republican operative before making aliyah. Some in the Israeli media have dubbed Netanyahu the Republican senator from Israel.
Netanyahu would like to at least appear neutral in the US election, despite his well known personal preferences, but he also knows every word he says will be carefully scrutinized not only at the White House but by his good friend and generous benefactor, billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who has been pouring tens of millions of dollars into the anti-Obama campaigns.
Romney can expect enthusiastic and flattering coverage of his trip from Israel’s largest daily newspaper, Israel HaYom, which not-so-coincidentally is owned by Adelson. And if Romney has a successful visit he can expect more millions from Adelson and so can Netanyahu.
Romney’s trip probably won’t win him any additional Jewish votes but it could help in raising additional money from Adelson and fellow wealthy, ultra-conservative Jewish players who are both staunch Republicans and extreme hardliners for whom Israel is the determinative political issue.