There was a moment in the last debate that really stood out because both candidates embraced a rather significant shift in American foreign policy and that shift was driven not by what’s in the best interests of the United States, but by raw politics.
Here it is…
MR. SCHIEFFER: A lot to cover. I’d like to move to the next segment: red lines, Israel and Iran. Would either of you — and you’ll have two minutes, and President Obama, you have the first go at this one. Would either of you be willing to declare that an attack on Israel is an attack on the United States, which of course is the same promise that we give to our close allies like Japan? And if you made such a declaration, would not that deter Iran? It’s certainly deterred the Soviet Union for a long, long time when we made that — when we made that promise to our allies.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, first of all, Israel is a true friend. It is our greatest ally in the region. And if Israel is attacked, America will stand with Israel. I’ve made that clear throughout my presidency. And —
MR. SCHIEFFER: So you’re saying we’ve already made that declaration?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I will stand with Israel if they are attacked. And this is the reason why, working with Israel, we have created the strongest military and intelligence cooperation between our two countries in history. In fact, this week we’ll be carrying out the largest military exercise with Israel in history, this very week….
MR. SCHIEFFER: Two minutes.
MR. ROMNEY: Well, first of all, I want to underscore the same point the president made, which is that when I’m president of the United States, we will stand with Israel. And if Israel is attacked, we have their back, not just diplomatically, not just culturally, but militarily….
When George W. Bush was in office, he rather famously said, “One thing that the world can count on is that we will not allow Israel to be crushed.” While that’s a strong statement of support for Israel, it falls short of a promise to go to war on Israel’s behalf.
It’s worth noting that the United States HAS NOT previously gotten militarily involved in Israel’s wars. Why is that something we should want to change?
Now, don’t get me wrong: I am a STRONG supporter of Israel. I know people who live there; I carry sand from the Sea of Galilee on my keychain. I consider Israel to be one of America’s best allies. I’ve publicly supported Pamela Geller’s Pro-Israel Ad Campaign; I think Jerusalem should be the capital of Israel. I have written articles like Seven Reasons Why Israel Will Never Get a Fair Shake and If The Palestinians Are Angry, That Means Mitt Is Doing Something Right. If Israel were attacked, there’s no question that I would want to see our government doing everything possible to support Israel short of sending in the troops.
All that being said, I have qualms about essentially saying that “An attack on Israel is an attack on the United States.”
For one thing, Hezbollah, Hamas, and Fatah launch attacks at Israel pretty regularly. If a Fatah fighter fires a rocket at Israel, that’s an Act of War by the government of the Palestinian territories against Israel. Israel generally ignores that sort of provocation, but what if Israel doesn’t? What if Israel bombs Iran’s nuclear sites and a war starts in the region? Are we going to put American troops in the middle of that? According to Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, the answer to that question is “yes.”
Not only would that be dumb on our part, the very fact that we’re giving Israel that impression may lead Israel to be more belligerent with its neighbors. Despite the incessant complaints about “Israel’s aggression,” Israel actually shows remarkable restraint — far more than we would show under similar circumstances. Do we want to encourage a change in that policy when both of our political parties are now essentially pledged to shed American blood on Israel’s behalf if necessary?
Politically, both Romney and Obama may have been smart to say what they said. But, geopolitically it wasn’t smart; nor is it in America’s best interests.