No Daylight

Since Mitt Romney has decided, for reasons that are a bit obscure, to make foreign policy a major focus of his campaign at this sensitive moment of the presidential contest, it’s time once again to note a rather jarring contradiction nestled in the center of his and his party’s policies and rhetoric. It’s nicely presented once again in a Wall Street Journal op-ed signed by the Republican nominee himself.

It begins with the usual “American exceptionalism” rap: the world is safe if the United States not only walks tall, but walks alone in its status as the source of all virtue and power:

Since World War II, America has been the leader of the Free World. We’re unique in having earned that role not through conquest but through promoting human rights, free markets and the rule of law. We ally ourselves with like-minded countries, expand prosperity through trade and keep the peace by maintaining a military second to none.

But Obama doesn’t get it, and isn’t maintaining our towering-colossus position:

President Obama has allowed our leadership to atrophy. Our economy is stuck in a “recovery” that barely deserves the name. Our national debt has risen to record levels. Our military, tested by a decade of war, is facing devastating cuts thanks to the budgetary games played by the White House. Finally, our values have been misapplied—and misunderstood—by a president who thinks that weakness will win favor with our adversaries.

But what is the supreme example of Obama’s “weakness” and refusal to keep the United States the world’s sole supremely sovereign super-power? Refusing to outsource our Middle Eastern policy to Bibi Netanyahu:

The president began his term with the explicit policy of creating “daylight” between our two countries. He recently downgraded Israel from being our “closest ally” in the Middle East to being only “one of our closest allies.” It’s a diplomatic message that will be received clearly by Israel and its adversaries alike. He dismissed Israel’s concerns about Iran as mere “noise” that he prefers to “block out.” And at a time when Israel needs America to stand with it, he declined to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In this period of uncertainty, we need to apply a coherent strategy of supporting our partners in the Middle East—that is, both governments and individuals who share our values.

So the first step Romney urges is “placing no daylight between the United States and Israel.” And that clearly includes a shift in U.S. policy towards Iran away from opposition to acquisition of nuclear weapons to the “red line” Netanyahu is demanding, acquisition of “nuclear capability,” which because of the vague nature of the definition of “capability,” means a pre-justification for military action against Tehran any old time now.

Put aside for a moment the arguments about Iran’s ultimate intentions and its alleged historically unique indifference to nuclear deterrence, or about the actual balance of military power in the Middle East. Forget if you can the calamitous consequences, not only to regional peace and stability, but to the U.S. and global economies, of war with Iran.

Think about this: Mitt Romney is running for president on a platform of indistinguishable and conjoined exceptionalism for the U.S. and Israel. And because Israel faces a vastly greater military threat, this means America would abandon its own independence of action and consign its fate to Bibi Netanyahu, a man whose views on peace and security are highly controversial in Israel itself.

Republican foreign policy thinking has had to go through a lot of twists and turns to arrive at this extraordinarily anomalous place. But the bottom line seems to be remarkably similar to the one embraced twelve years ago by George W. Bush and his advisors, who took office determined to wage war with Iraq, despite the cover of all the middle-school bully-boy talk of preventing war by plotting it constantly.

If Romney wins and the United States supinely follows Bibi into yet another, and this time vastly more dangerous, Gulf war, nobody can say we were not warned.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.