So, John and Dennis G. and mistermix have already noted the bizarre obsequiousness of Romney’s visit to Israel. But in some ways that misses the point. I mean, look, if it just so happened that American interests lined up perfectly with those of Israel, then this would be all about tone, and I find discussions of tone fairly empty. We’ve all had good fun pointing out the absurdity of the “Obama apology tour” line of attack. That is also about tone, and whatever, I just don’t care.
But what I do care about is that Romney’s attitude betrays some real, and bizarre, foreign policy commitments. Two jumped out at me. In John’s piece, he quite a Dan Senor statement, but misses the most interesting part, where Senor says,
Senor said that Romney believes in a zero enrichment policy in Iran and that Tehran must believe “the alternative to zero enrichment is severe, and that’s why the threat of military force has to be critical.”
Now, here is the thing. This basically moves the goalposts significantly. It moves the issue from preventing the acquisition of nuclear weapons to the existence of a nuclear program at all. This isn’t actually current USG policy. And what’s more, it is a goal that is virtually impossible to get support for internationally since under international law, Iran has an absolute right to peaceful nuclear energy, and that includes enrichment activities consistent with that.
The issue with Iran is that the UN Security Council has asked Iran to stop enrichment until a proper transparency regime can be establish, not as a permanent constraint. There is a difference between trying to ensure that Iran does not use legitimate nuclear activities as a cover for weapons development versus the notion that any Iranian nuclear activity is, in itself, unacceptable. The Senor position, if truly accepted by Romney, is a huge gift for Iran since it means that the Iranians can be confident that a Romney administration, now out of step with international law, would be unable to tighten the screws with more sanctions.
In short, if I were an Iranian, and I were committed to pursuing nuclear weapons, I would be rooting extra hard for a Romney victory.
In terms of Israel… what gets me is that there are things we’d like the Israelis to do. We’d like them to reopen the peace process and move to a two-state solution, for instance. Even George W. Bush supported this goal. Romney doesn’t seem to want to commit to it, so this is possibly another case of a dramatic proposed change in U.S. policy. Another possibility is that Romney does support a two-state solution, but is willing to throw away all of his leverage with Israel without any concessions in return. Either way, it shows either a lack of understanding or of competence in foreign policy.
If Romney wins and he carries through on what he has promised on his trip, there are two quite likely outcomes: (1) Iran goes nuclear (just like North Korea did under Bush under the similar circumstance of combining maximalist demands with an unwillingness to negotiate); and (2) we’ll see a 3rd Intifada.