While Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama engage at the White House in ticklish negotiations over responding to Iran’s nuclear program, and the strongly pro-Israel pressure group AIPAC is meeting, Mitt Romney writes a bellicose op-ed for The Washington Post, and, along with two other Republican candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, delivers an extraordinarily inflammatory speech to AIPAC on the same Iranian nuclear program. Romney and the Republican stable (except for Ron Paul) are engaged in an obvious effort to curry favor with what they perceive as “the Jewish vote” by meddling in foreign policy and undermining a sitting President at the most crucial point in negotiations, thus politicizing American foreign relations for personal partisan advantage.
The GOP has engaged in such endeavors in the past, of course, but this time it has an especially dangerous edge, so dangerous that a former head of the Mossad, Israel’s fiendishly effective intelligence service, spoke up condemning Romney’s op-ed in The Huffington Post. Efraim Halevy said that Romney, “by forecasting his military intentions—- and claiming that Obama would not act the same way” is “telling the Iranians, ‘You better be quick about it.'” Halevy explained that an Iranian leader, reading Romney’s fulminations promising that, when he becomes President, he will not hesitate to use military measures to stop Iran’s nuclear program, would understand that he had nine more months to expedite their nuclear program, so he better hurry up. What else did Romney write that could so alarm the tough former boss of the Mossad? He opened his op-ed with:
Beginning Nov. 4, 1979, dozens of U.S. diplomats were held hostage by Iranian Islamic revolutionaries for 444 days while America’s feckless president, Jimmy Carter, fretted in the White House. Running for the presidency against Carter the next year, Ronald Reagan made it crystal clear that the Iranians would pay a very stiff price for continuing their criminal behavior. On Jan. 20, 1981, in the hour that Reagan was sworn into office, Iran released the hostages
Romney went on to compare the hostage crisis with today’s more serious threat of a nuclear bomb, and called President Obama “America’s most feckless president since Carter,” accusing him of having no effective policy , channeled Ronald Reagan once more, and announced:
“…I will press forward with ballistic missile defense systems…. I will support Iranian dissidents… I will buttress my diplomacy with a military option that will persuade the ayatollahs to abandon their nuclear ambitions… My plan includes restoring the regular presence of aircraft carrier groups in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf region simultaneously…”
In HuffPost, Halevy commented “wryly” on Romney’s version of the hostage crisis: “I’m not sure this is the way this actually unfolded.” —- As HuffPost noted, Reagan actually traded arms to the Iranians in exchange for the hostages’ release (and this led ultimately to the Iran-Contra-Ollie North scandal, as I recall)—- Halevy responded to Romney’s idea of beefing up the US Navy in the Eastern Med by asking “Is that what we want—- to renew the Cold War in the Mediterranean? Is that what’s going to help Israel?” In his opinion, “For Iranians, the No. 1 concern is not the bomb, it is to preserve their regime.”
Efraim Halevy apparently did not join Romney, Gingrich, Santorum (and President Obama) in making a formal speech to AIPAC, but Netanyahu did. In comments on HuffPost, he was quoted as being every bit as bellicose as the Republicans, comparing Iran to Nazi Germany, and hinting that Obama was as resistant as President Roosevelt to taking overt action to help Jews. Said Auf Benn, editor of a major Israeli newspaper Ha’saretz, “Prime Minister Netanyahu publicly booby-trapped himself to war with Iran.” We do know that a big chunk of the Republican evangelical base believes that a pre-condition for the Second Coming of Christ is the restoration of a “greater Israel,” so they temporarily support Israel (after which they believe Jews will be scrubbed from the earth unless they convert to Jesus, Armageddon will be fought, and certain chosen Christians will be snatched up in the Rapture—- you could call this their foreign policy).
The seemingly close co-ordination between the Republican candidates and the Israeli prime minister unfortunately cannot help but fuel speculation in some quarters that Israel (or Netanyahu’s faction, anyway) is not only meddling in American elections, but also seeking to run America’s foreign policy. Another Israeli view, from Aluf Benn, editor of the major Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, is that Netanyahu, in his talks with President Obama, “publicly booby-trapped himself into war with Iran.” It sounds to me like a kind of cross-fertilization, a species of one-upmanship between Netanyahu and the Republicans, constantly upping the ante to push each other to more aggressive positions, each for their own political purposes domestically and internationally. It’s like a big boy pissing contest.
With the GOP for its own purposes cheering Netanyahu on toward military action, it comes as no surprise that Obama and the Israeli Prime Minister ended their negotiations “right where they began. Obama wants Israel to refrain from attacking Iran now, and Netanyahu pointedly refused to do so,” according to an AP analysis quoted in HuffPost.
Anyone who heard even a part of Obama’s speech to AIPAC knows how strong it was, promising to use the “military option,” but only as a last resort. We already have three aircraft carrier groups on station in the Persian Gulf-Arabian Sea area. Is Romney planning on stripping our Pacific Fleet to send another to the Med, leaving North Korea or China free to do who knows what? The Iranians are already convinced that the CIA is helping the Iranian dissidents, and I suspect we probably are, but it does not help that project to have Romney promise to do more. Some things are better left unsaid in public, Mitt.
None of this is taking place in isolation. HuffPo noted that Halevy found the “rhetoric of the primary season unsettling and destabilizing,” and quoted him as saying that Romney “is not just telling the American public that they can or cannot trust Obama. Everybody reads what he says, not only citizens of the United States.” Yes, indeed. Not just American voters and the ayatollahs of Iran hear what Romney and Republicans are saying, but also the leaders and citizens of Russia, China, Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Korea, Pakistan…. No one but Obama and his closest advisors have any idea what is going on behind the scenes, any more than we knew about the Seals taking out Osama bin Laden.
Romney is like an elephant in a china shop, blundering ponderously around, no doubt at exactly the wrong moment. Foreign policy and ordering up a war are not quite the same as hedge fund raids. No, really—- although I suppose the Wall Street A-types like to think of themselves as Genghis Khans as they gut companies and crash economies. There is one similarity however: in both situations (Wall Street and American foreign policy), Romney et al are operating entirely for their own personal short-term profit, whether in dollars or in politics, with no long-term view of what their actions do to anyone else, and only a pretense of interest in America’s long-term vital interests, by which I mean the good of the country.