What really matters

Israelis should be concerned about one thing only: What is each candidate’s foreign policy position with regard to the Middle East?

Romney, Obama point at eachother during debate 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Mike Segar)
Romney, Obama point at eachother during debate 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Mike Segar)
The upcoming US presidential election has many Americans living in Israel captivated as they watch the debates and analyze the polls to see who will occupy the White House for the next four years. While most Jews in America have long voted for the Democratic party based on its liberal domestic policies, Jews everywhere should be more concerned with the party’s foreign policy.
The question is, will a Romney-Ryan ticket be better for Israel than the current administration with regard to Israel? It’s important to look at how foreign policy works and the similarities and differences between Obama and Romney.
Aside from the president’s ability to make decisions, such as appointing ambassadors and deciding to go to war, there is no actual mention of foreign policy in the Constitution. Congress plays a key role in shaping foreign policy, as do think-tanks, former presidents and NGOs. Influential advisers also have a strong impact on the president’s foreign policy positions and that explains varying degrees of obvious or subtle differences between administrations.
When trying to understand each candidate’s foreign policy, it can also help to look at the candidates’ experience.
While Obama now has four more years of foreign policy experience than Romney (who has very little experience, if any), from the start he has taken a mistaken, Carter-type approach by seeking appeasement over force.
A 2011 report published by the White House, entitled “Empowering Local Partners to Prevent Violent Extremism in the United States,” intentionally eliminates the use of terms such as “jihad” and “radical Islam.”
Tiptoeing around Islamists has become a hallmark of the Obama presidency, but he continues to defend his actions and criticize Romney.
In the national security section of the Obama campaign website, under the title “Restoring America’s standing around the world” it says “President Obama has strengthened our alliances around the world with friends like Israel, our NATO allies, and our partners in Asia and Latin America. And he has brought together international coalitions to confront shared challenges, such as Iran’s nuclear program... On a foreign trip, Mitt Romney insulted one of our closest allies – the British – right before their Olympics. And he’s spent months on the campaign trail criticizing our allies and partners around the world.”
As Kiertisak Toh, a member of the economic faculty at Radford University, Virginia, and a senior fellow at the Sanford School of Public Policy, Duke University, North Carolina, writes in The Nation, “Obama has a core belief in multilateralism – forming coalitions and partnerships – and judiciously applying military (hard) power in combination with diplomacy and development assistance (soft power) – what the administration likes to call ‘smart’ power. Multilateralism recognizes today’s increasingly interdependent and multi-polar world...
Romney, on the other hand, would probably be more comfortable with unilateralism, leading from the front and perhaps being quicker to use hard power.”
In Tuesday’s townhall-style debate against Obama in New York, Romney said, “The president’s policies throughout the Middle East began with an apology tour and pursued a strategy of leading from behind, and this strategy is unraveling before our very eyes.”
Romney believes Obama has not been a strong enough ally of Israel.
In his speech on foreign policy at the Virginia Military Institute last week, Romney referred to Obama’s “passivity in the Middle East.”
Says Toh, “With respect to the Middle East, Romney did offer alternative policies, which include arming the opposition in Syria, halting Iran’s nuclear capability rather than merely preventing it from building nuclear weapons, tougher conditions on support for Egypt, and more explicit support for Israel.”
Yet, in terms of how to deal with Arab upheaval in the Middle East to the war in Afghanistan to relations with China, it is not obvious that Romney offers a solution wholly different than Obama’s. While he advocates a closer relationship with Israel and taking an even tougher stance against Iran, it is unclear how he differs with Obama on the peace process or on whether he will support Israel if it decides to attack Iran.
The Romney campaign emphasizes “A Romney foreign policy will proceed with clarity and resolve. Our friends and allies will not have doubts about where we stand and what we will do to safeguard our interests and theirs. Neither will our rivals, competitors, and adversaries. The best ally world peace has ever known is a strong America." On Israel, the campaign charges, “President Obama and his administration have badly misunderstood the dynamics of the region. Instead of fostering stability and security, they have diminished US authority and painted both Israel and ourselves into a corner. President Obama for too long has been in the grip of several illusions. One is that the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is the central problem in the region. This has been disproved repeatedly by events, most recently and most dramatically by the eruption of the Arab Spring. But it nonetheless led the president to explicitly state that his policy is to create ‘daylight’ between the United States and Israel, believing that this would earn us credits in the Arab world and somehow bring peace closer. The record proves otherwise.”
Strangely, the Obama campaign does not seem to have a foreign policy section on its website other than in its “Truth Team” section refuting Romney’s positions.
The “national security” section says nothing about the Middle East or Israel.
The campaign does highlight Obama’s assistance to Israel, including preventing Palestinian efforts to circumvent direct negotiations with Israel and unilaterally seek statehood recognition through the United Nations’ increased security assistance to Israel every year, including unprecedented support for Israel’s Iron Dome rocket defense system and Obama’s directive to the Pentagon to expand US-Israel security cooperation.
US FOREIGN policy should not be about who is responsible for the US ambassador’s death in Benghazi, Libya, or about Romney’s gaffe in London. Rather, foreign policy should be about how to protect the American people and their allies. It should be about the type of message the administration needs to send to other nations to show that it is the leader of the free world. Much of foreign policy is about signals, and the signals emanating from Washington today are lending power to the Arab world and encouraging extremists.
Whether Romney would act differently in Afghanistan, Libya or Syria is unclear. Perhaps next Monday’s debate in Florida will clarify this. What is clear is that Romney would never have reached out to the Arab world, naively, in a speech from Cairo. He never would have bowed to the Saudis and he would not have shunned Israel’s prime minister in public.