Who Won the Presidential Debate: On Israel, Mitt Romney Loses


At the presidential debate on Monday, both President Obama and Mitt Romney will battle on the issue of Israel, but who is right?

For live coverage of the presidential foreign policy debate on Monday, including real-time analysis and coverage, see here.

Republicans have strived to create a powerful narrative, portraying themselves as the champions of Israeli-American relations and their Democratic opponents as enemies of the Jewish state. Not surprisingly, that yarn is fiction.

According to Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and President Shimon Peres, President Obama has stood behind Israel as much or more than any other U.S. president. The whole concept of one American leader being superior for being more “pro-Israeli” than his opponent is unprecedented and dangerous. We as Americans should be determining what is best for our country and figuring out why it is that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is so anti-American.  

At the Republican National Convention, GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney continued to claim that President Obama has thrown “allies like Israel under the bus.”

Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan, recently stated that Obama has treated Israel with “indifference bordering on contempt.”

Time and again we are told that the Republicans stand behind Israel, and the Democrats stand against the alliance. The reasons given are numerous, ranging from Obama snubbing the Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu on the former’s recent trip to New York City, to Obama refusing to find the time to fly to Israel during his first term as president, and to Biden snubbing Bibi in 2010.

Yes, it is well-documented that Obama and Netanyahu often do not see eye-to-eye. The problem here is the lack of attention put on Netanyahu’s role in this perceived dispute. (For an explanation of each perceived “snubbing,” please read this)

Obama’s predecessor, Republican George W. Bush, and his administration labeled Israeli settlement expansion as “unhelpful” to the peace process and American diplomatic efforts in the Middle East. While Bush was able to go so far as to say that Israeli settlements harmed us, he was unwilling to stand up for U.S. interests and do anything about them.

Obama entered the fray expecting to do something to promote both American and Israeli positions, hence his spring 2009 request that Israel halt its settlement development. A year later, Biden was dispatched to Israel in a show of support. He received a slap in the face in the form of a pronouncement that Israel would be expanding settlements against America’s wishes. More insults would soon follow.

This past spring, Netanyahu brought America to the brink of conflict with Iran over the latter’s nuclear enrichment program, and he tried to do it again recently. In the midst of an American presidential campaign, he demanded that Obama establish a “red-line” that Iran cannot cross in regards to its nuclear ambitions. Not only is he clearly attempting to manipulate an American presidential election, a time-honored tradition that should not involve foreign meddling, but he is also calling for declaration of poor policy.

The presumption on Netanyahu’s part — that a red line would discourage further Iranian nuclear enrichment, when devastating economic sanctions, crippling political isolation, strategic software viruses, and targeted assassinations of head Iranian scientists have not as of yet achieved that goal — is not grounded in reality.

All it would accomplish would be to draw America into a war with another Middle Eastern regional power (this one, however, backed by religious zealotry and united in history.) That war would see a dramatic increase in global oil prices that would most certainly affect how much Americans pay at the pump. It would risk putting tens of thousands of U.S. military personnel in harm’s way, and it would absolutely increase our federal budget deficit. Republicans and Democrats both largely oppose these things, so it does not make sense to heedlessly engage in military conflict with Iran if it can be avoided.

Never mind that George H.W. Bush once threatened to withhold loan guarantees from Israel after a dispute. Ignore the fact that since the founding of the State of Israel, only Democratic presidents have visited it in their first term (Carter and Clinton). Do not notice that George W. Bush was the first Republican to visit the Holy Land at all (and only during the last year of his presidency) since Nixon. Take no heed that Jewish American voters overwhelmingly back Democratic politicians across the country. All that information will obscure the right-wing fable of Republicans as uniquely pro-Israeli warriors.

Instead of partisan bickering over who swoons over Netanyahu more, why do we not bring the discussion back to the real issue: when it comes to the state of Israel, who has America’s interests in mind more? Who is really “country first,” and who is simply better at doing what a foreign leader asks of him?

Obama’s relationship with Netanyahu may be described as rocky, but his support of Israel is rock-solid. Obama’s presidency has overseen unprecedented levels of military and intelligence cooperation. He has pledged to defend Israel in case of an Iranian attack, and has applied the U.N. veto in defense of the Jewish state. In any issue of actual importance, Obama has stood beside Israel, despite every effort by Netanyahu to form a cleavage between our two great countries.

It is time we remembered that we are voting to elect a candidate who will lead our people, not be chained to the will of a controversial Israeli prime minister. Maybe it is also time we stopped asking if Obama likes Israel, and started wondering what Netanyahu will do to show he appreciates our leadership.

For live coverage of the presidential foreign policy debate on Monday, including real-time analysis and coverage, see here.