Last week when most Americans were focused on the Olympic Games in London, Mitt Romney delivered a major foreign policy speech in Jerusalem that could, if he becomes president, lay the groundwork for military action against Iran.
"We have a solemn duty and moral imperative to deny Iran's leaders the means to follow through on their malevolent intentions," he asserted. A senior Romney aide, Dan Senor, told the press, "If Israel has to take action on its own, the governor would respect their decision." ("Romney Backs Israeli Position on Atomic Iran," New York Times, July 31).
Cynics say this is just election year politics, not a serious foreign policy commitment by Romney. Their argument is bolstered by the fact that many Jewish American fundraisers traveled to Jerusalem to support Romney and raise millions of dollars for his election campaign. Some suggested that Romney's visit was designed to increase his support among Jewish voters, especially in Florida, a swing state in the election.
Others argue that there is scant difference between Romney's and Obama's stated views on Iran, or on their support for Israel. Yet, should it decide to attack Iran, Romney appears to go farther than Obama on support for Israel.
In a speech before the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Reno on July 24, Romney attacked Obama's policies on Russia which he characterized as an "abandonment of friends in Poland and the Czech Republic." He charged that as part of Obama's effort to improve relations with Moscow, plans for missile defense installations in both countries "were sacrificed as a unilateral concession to the Russian government."
Romney also laid out in the VFW speech his vision of a robust U.S. foreign policy. He argued that if the United States doesn't lead, "other powers will take our place," adding: "I pledge to you that if I become commander-in-chief, the United States of America will fulfill its duty, and its destiny."
That kind of rhetoric is reminiscent of George W. Bush's strong talk in the fall of 2002 when he warned Iraq's dictator, Saddam Hussein, to stop terrorizing his own people and seeking weapons of mass destruction. Bush administration officials argued that if the United States showed resolve and confronted him with force, Saddam Hussein would back down. He did not, so Bush decided, with congressional approval, to send troops to oust him.
What should we make of Mitt Romney's belated foray into foreign policy?
Most political analysts say the faltering U.S. economy will be the determining factor in the November election. But some think voters in four key swing states--Florida, Virginia, Ohio, and Missouri--can be influenced by Romney's stand on greater defense spending, more assertive foreign policy, and support for Israel.
The risk in such election-year pandering for votes is that it could lead the United States into an unintended and unwanted Middle East war. Here's a scenario on how it could happen:
Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, decides that economic sanctions are not working to force Iran's leaders to stop enriching uranium to weapons grade, and that Israel now faces an "existential threat" from Iran. He believes he must exercise Israel's sovereign right to protect itself by destroying Iran's nuclear facilities. He informs the White House of his plans to launch an attack and waits for the U.S. response.
If Barack Obama is president at the time, he advises Netanyahu that, although the United States supports Israel's right to defend itself, it does not support military action at this time and asks Israel to give sanctions more time to work.
But, if Mitt Romney is president, would he counsel Netanyahu to be patient and let sanctions work, or would he ask Congress for authorization to join Israel in the war?
In either case, Israel launches air strikes into Iran and Iran's military retaliates by mining the Strait of Hormuz. Tehran then accuses the United States of backing Israel and deploys swift boats to harass U.S. ships in the Persian Gulf. After two U.S. warships are damaged, Republicans as well as some Democrats in Congress demand that the president take military action against Iran.
Is this scenario realistic? Some experts argue it is not, because Israel would never launch an attack on Iran without U.S. support and participation. But others suspect that Netanyahu could calculate that after Israel attacks Iran, the United States will have little choice but to use its own forces, regardless of whether Romney or Obama is president.
Election-year pandering for Jewish votes is not new in American politics. What makes it more serious this year is that a war with Iran may be inevitable if Israel decides to act unilaterally to defend its interests in the Middle East.
My hope is that Romney and his advisers learned by this foray into international relations that the risks of sliding into another Middle East war are higher than anticipated.
File last modified on Wednesday, 08-AUG-2012 11:45 PM EST