Okay, I’m going to tread on some dangerous territory today, although I believe I can avoid any missteps. As you might have heard, recently Mitt Romney got into a bit of hot water over some comments he made in Israel–essentially he credited the difference between the per capita GDP of Israel and Palestine to their respective business and political cultures. I won’t go into the debate about whether or not Romney was correct–you can read plenty about that other places.
What I found interesting, however, is the fact that he made those comments at all. See, American foreign policy vies a vie Israel has basically two priorities, in strict order, which have existed since at least Jimmy Carter:
1) Strict assurance of Israel’s right to exist as a self-determined Jewish country. This includes harsh condemnation of any entity that would attack Israel, generous financial and military aid to Israel, and a standing offer to sell to Israel a wide array of some of the best weaponry that comes out of the American military industrial complex.
2) Strict assurance to the rest of the Muslim world that as long as any Muslim nation is willing to negotiate in good faith with Israel, the United States will serve as an honest and neutral broker of those negotiations. This means that the United States has tried to avoid taking any stance on any contentious issue that is unresolved on the negotiating table (most notably the status of Jerusalem as the capital of either Israel or the Palestinian Authority), and has repeatedly criticized both Israel and various other parties for taking actions that harm the negotiations (including Palestinian terrorist attacks, Syrian and Israeli interference in Lebanon, Israeli settlement activity, etc.) This neutrality has also meant that United States officials try to avoid criticizing Palestinians for the state of their poverty–which the Palestinians blame on the Israeli occupation and trade blockade (and hence, which gets back to the stalled negotiations).
And that’s why I find Mitt Romney’s comment remarkable. Romney’s comment implies that he is willing to jettison–or at the minimum completely rethink–priority #2. It would seem that under a Romney administration, the United States of America would become an ally of Israel. Period, end of story. I don’t know if this means that Romney would have the United States pull out of the peace process entirely, or if he believes that the United States can still play a role within the peace process as an explicit Israeli ally (as opposed to playing a role as a neutral arbiter). Moreover, I have no idea who Romney believes might step into the role of neutral arbiter, or even if he believes that it is an in important role to be filled. I think those are all interesting questions that I would love to see him answer.
I would also like to note that I find the ignorance claim here quite unbelievable. Romney was giving a speech from prepared remarks, in a region that is notorious for picking over and infusing meaning into these kinds of comments. And as the New York Times notes this morning, one of Romney’s top foreign policy advisers is a leading neoconservative hawk on American-Israeli policy, has written at least one book on the subject, and accompanied Romney on the trip to Israel. Romney didn’t accidentally say something he shouldn’t have said–he meant what he said, and said what he meant, as evidenced by the fact that he has made no attempt to take back his comments.
So now I’m just waiting for Romney to flesh out his Israeli policy. Every American president since at least Jimmy Carter–and you can probably go all the way back to LBJ–have had essentially the same two priorities for America’s Israeli policy. Romney’s comments over the weekend imply that he would revolutionize the American-Israeli relationship; I’d love to hear him give a few more details on the matter.