WASHINGTON (JTA) – Gov. Mitt Romney has made some outrageous comments and taken some extreme positions in this presidential campaign. But few, if any, are more baffling than his latest statement on his plans for the U.S.-Israel relationship.
Asked last weekend what he would do to strengthen America’s alliance with Israel, he said, “by and large, you can just look at the things the president has done and do the opposite.”
With this statement, given via video conference to the Faith and Freedom Coalition conference in Washington, D.C., Governor Romney clearly found a cheap applause line for a conservative audience. Yet it also begs a few questions: What does he mean when he says he’ll “do the opposite”? Where, exactly, will he change course? What in President Obama’s strong pro-Israel record does the presumptive Republican nominee oppose?
Governor Romney’s foray into foreign affairs may make for a good sound bite, but it is no substitute for sound policy. It reflects one of two options: Either he is willfully ignorant of the president’s record, or he’s planning to drive the U.S.-Israel partnership in reverse and undermine the security of the Jewish state.
Let’s consider the facts. President Obama has restored and increased Israel’s qualitative military edge, which eroded under his Republican predecessor. He has provided record levels of aid for Israel’s security and supplemented U.S. assistance with more than $1 billion in new funds for the Iron Dome, David’s Sling and Arrow missile defense systems. He has committed American troops to the largest-ever joint military exercises with their IDF counterparts.
The president has said repeatedly that Israel must be able to defend itself, by itself, from any threat. Under his leadership, the United States is ensuring Israel has the means to do so.
It’s no wonder that Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has said he “can hardly remember a better period of … American support and cooperation and similar strategic understanding of events around us than what we have right now.” And Mitt Romney wants to do the opposite?
In the diplomatic realm, the Obama administration has voted with Israel’s interests 100 percent of the time at the United Nations. It has consistently defended Israel at the U.N. and in other international forums. It has boycotted the Durban conferences — because America knows that Zionism is not racism.
After President Obama’s impassioned speech in defense of Israel at the U.N. last fall, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the president could wear his actions as a “badge of honor.” And, again, Mitt Romney wants to do the opposite?
President Obama’s commitment to Israel’s security has shined brightest on one of the greatest challenges to regional and global security today: the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran. The president knows that preventing a nuclear Iran is not only in Israel’s interests, it’s in our own national security interests.
That’s why he has imposed and implemented the most comprehensive sanctions regime against Iran in history — with more on the way. That’s why he built an international coalition dedicated to keeping the bomb out of Iranian hands. That’s why the president has promised to take no options off the table to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons — whether diplomatic, economic, political or even military.
The president has made clear that containment is not an option, that a nuclear Iran is unacceptable, and that the United States will continue to act on its promises. As we’ve seen time and again, this president means what he says. He backs words with deeds. He does not bluff.
Indeed, just last week, President Shimon Peres — honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, our nation’s highest civilian honor — said, “Mr. President, you have pledged a lasting friendship for Israel. You stated that Israel’s security is sacrosanct. So you pledged. So you acted. So you’re acting — as a great leader, as a genuine friend."
All this, and Mitt Romney still wants to do the opposite?
There are plenty of areas of disagreement between the president and Governor Romney, and the distinctions will certainly stand front and center from now until Election Day in November. The American people will have a clear choice. Part of that choice will be between a president who has strengthened and solidified Israel’s security and a candidate pledging to do the opposite.
For the sake of a strong and secure Israel, Mitt Romney should stop playing politics and start facing the facts. The security of our two nations is too important, our alliance too critical, our friendship too deep to be used as a partisan football. Mitt Romney should know better. Luckily for us, our president already does.
(David A. Harris is the president and CEO of the National Jewish Democratic Council.)