Israel likes Romney’s foreign policy, others ruffled

The theme of American exceptionalism is easily heard as equivalent to American superiority to other countries.

Mitt Romney on screen (R370) (photo credit:  	 REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton)
Mitt Romney on screen (R370)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton)
WASHINGTON – Unlike every other speaker who proceeded him at the Republican National Convention Thursday night – with the surprising exception of Clint Eastwood – Mitt Romney discussed foreign policy in his address.
Most of his speech accepting the Republican Party’s presidential nomination was devoted to his family background, his vision of what America stands for and domestic issues such as jobs and taxes.
But in a brief section toward the end, he spelled out a few policy specifics.
Romney broke no new ground – in fact, several of the lines were direct repetitions of sentences he has already uttered on the campaign trail. But that wasn’t really the point, which was namely to try to strike a contrast with US President Barack Obama in order to delineate areas of weakness in his competitor and suggest that he himself would do better.
In doing so, he spoke to the foreign policy areas of the greatest consensus in the United States. Those areas should be reassuring to those Israelis who worry about how the American commander-in-chief will fit the Jewish state into his larger vision of the world and where the threats they face will be placed on the priority list of the globe’s most powerful country.
At the top of Romney’s list Thursday night was Iran.
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After a glancing reference to how Americans felt “relieved” because of Obama’s order to take out Osama bin Laden, he continued, “Every American is less secure today because he has failed to slow Iran’s nuclear threat.”
He specifically criticized Obama’s engagement policy.
“In his first TV interview as president, he said we should talk to Iran. We’re still talking, and Iran’s centrifuges are still spinning,” Romney continued.
Next came Israel itself.
“President Obama has thrown allies like Israel under the bus,” the Republican candidate charged.
He quickly mentioned Cuba and then took a swipe at Obama on the missile defense issue – which is directly related to US efforts to provide a security umbrella from the threat of Iranian rockets – by recalling the president’s caught-on-mic comment to then-Russian president Dmitri Medvedev that he would have “more flexibility” after the election.
“He abandoned our friends in Poland by walking away from our missile defense commitments, but is eager to give Russia’s President Putin the flexibility he desires, after the election,” Romney said of Obama.
While these positions might be warmly received by many Israelis, it’s less clear what the reaction from the rest of the international community will be, particularly since these specific points are being made under the broader banner of reinforced American exceptionalism.
That idea – that the US is different, that it has a special mission and destiny – is easily heard as equivalent to American superiority to other countries.
The term was a dominant theme at the RNC convention. An entire section of the 2012 Republican platform is titled for American exceptionalism, and almost every speech at the convention mentioned America’s special opportunities, values and prowess.
Romney himself spoke early on in his speech about watching Neil Armstrong land on the moon, with his wife, Ann, and recalling, “Like all Americans, we went to bed that night knowing we lived in the greatest country in the history of the world.”
“When the world needs someone to do the really big stuff, you need an American,” he continued.
Beyond the overarching view of American exceptionalism, which was hammered on again and again, international perspective didn’t figure much into the convention, just as it is getting little attention in the campaign.
It was only movie star Clint Eastwood – who was allowed to go on stage minutes before Romney with an unscripted, unvetted performance – who mentioned the more controversial issues of Guantanamo Bay and the war in Afghanistan.
The convention planners have been taking a lot of heat for letting Eastwood go on as he did, but these issues are ones that are going to have to be reckoned with. There will be many more unscripted moments between now and Election Day.