Scouring for Jewish votes before November’s election, GOP presidential candidate former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney left the London Olympics and rendezvoused with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem. Romney’s message was clear: Vote for me and I’ll back Israel 100%. Pushing a prayer into a crack on the Wailing Wall, the 65-year-old Republican standard bearer promised to help Israel “defend itself” and take “any and all measures” against the Iranian nuclear threat. Called an “existential threat” by Netanyahu April 18, Romney called Iran’s nuclear program the “highest national security priority,” signaling that the U.S. under his leadership would back a military strike if economic sanctions and diplomacy fail. Romney knows that all the saber-rattling of the Bush and Obama administrations over the past 10 years hasn’t gotten Iran to back down.
Iran’s atomic program harks back to the Eisenhower administration when nuclear technology was given by the U.S. to the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. When Ayatollah Ruhollah Khoemenei toppled the Shah in 1979, the U.S. broke off diplomatic relations, ending involvement in Iran’s atomic program. Heated rhetoric by Iran’s fiery President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad threatening in 2005 to “wipe Israel off the map,” raised fierce opposition to Iran’s nuclear program during former President George W. Bush’s eight years. With all the gunboat diplomacy, Iran went full-steam ahead building more underground uranium enrichment plants. While Iran denies it’s developing a nuclear bomb, proliferation experts at the U.N.’s Vienna-based nuclear watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency believe Iran is dangerously close to producing weapons-grade uranium.
Romney’s visit to Israel was designed to show off his foreign policy chops and separate himself from President Barack Obama. Republicans have criticized Obama’s approach to Israel by showing more balance with Palestinian concerns. When Obama and his Secretary of State made a premature stab at Mideast diplomacy, Obama joined Palestinian criticism of Netanyahu’s pro-settlement policies in the West Bank. It didn’t take long for Obama and Clinton to realize that Palestinians are hopelessly mired in a civil war between Hamas’ Gaza Strip and the Palestine Liberation Organization’s West Bank. When Obama and Clinton realized that they have no negotiating peace partner, the White House pivoted to its current pro-Israel position. Today, there’s almost no separation between Obama and Romney’s position on Israel, at least with respect to Iran’s nuclear program.
On a recent trip to Israel, Clinton said the U.S. and Israel were “on the same page” on the Iranian question. “Our own choice is clear, we will use all elements of American power to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons,” Clinton promised Netanyahu. Obama and Clinton have preempted any foreign policy differences with the GOP regarding Israel. “We should employ any and all measures to dissuade the Iranian regime from its nuclear course, and it is our fervent hope that diplomatic and economic measure will do so,” Romney said at a speech at Mishkenot Sha’anamin cultural center. Both the White House and Romney know that Iran has shown no signs of stopping its nuclear program. Iran has said it views economic sanctions as an act of war, threatening to shut down the Persian Gulf’s Strait of Hormuz. Romney called Iran’s behavior “reckless and provocative and inviting war.”
Talking tough on Iran, Romney sends the wrong message to Israel that may have to live with a nuclear Iran. Mitt doesn’t speak for the U.S. government since Obama’s in the White House. Judging by Barack’s attempt to end U.S. conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, he’s not likely to act unilaterally on Iran. Romney knows that two key members of the U.N. Security Council, Russia and China, oppose more military action against the Persian nation, whether or not they develop A-bombs. Iran has never said they intend, should they get the A-bomb, to drop it on Tel Aviv. Netanyahu’s presumption of Iran as an “existential threat” exaggerates the risks of a nuclear-armed Iran. Before Pakistan got the bomb, India viewed a nuclear-armed Pakistan an existential threat. Once they got the bomb in 1998, India found out the hard way that deterrence really works.
Throwing support to Israel helps Romney buy votes but doesn’t offer a sound foreign policy. More saber-rattling by Romney, or Hillary, doesn’t further U.S. interests with China and Russia. If the U.S. wants to keep Russia and China on the same page, it needs to stop the gunboat diplomacy and recognize that Iran isn’t likely, no matter what the economic sanctions or threats, to reverse its nuclear program. Rejecting the idea that he’s war mongering, Romney insisted, “the opposite is true. We are the true peacemakers” when it comes to supporting possible military action by Israel. Given the fragile state of the U.S. and world economy, any Persian Gulf war could throw the world into recession. While no one wants Iran to go nuclear, it’s probably too late to get Iran to stop enriching uranium. No amount of U.S. or Israeli threats will stop Tehran from completing the nuclear fuel cycle.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.