Karl Vick writes: There are a number of ways to understand Mitt Romney’s visit to Israel, where he pitches up Saturday night from London.
One is optics, as they like to say in Washington. The presumptive Republican nominee clearly wants to occupy the chilly space visible between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose tense personal relationship feeds the impression that Obama is cool toward not only Bibi, as Netanyahu is universally known, but also toward Israel itself. What supposed evidence of which might exist – the Cairo speech, Obama’s insisting on a settlement freeze as a pre-condition to peace talks with the Palestinians – is both receding in time and being pushed into the background by the keen, almost obsessive attention the White House has paid Israel in the last two years, in official visits, security coordination and, yes, dollars.
The latest arrived Saturday, when Obama signed a bill sending $70 million to Israel to pay for more of the anti-missile batteries called Iron Dome, the wonder technology that’s been knocking down 80 percent of the missiles fired toward Israeli cities from the Gaza Strip. Defense minister Ehud Barak promptly issued a statement of thanks, pointedly calling the aid “yet another expression of the consistent support of the Obama administration, and indeed of the U.S. congress, to the security of the State of Israel.” Such is the power of the incumbency. There will be more. Coming in October, as the fall campaign crests: The largest US-Israel joint military operation in history.
But as the Romney campaign appears to know well, body language is a lot more fun to read than official statements. Of six public events on Sunday, five are “photo sprays,” grip and grins with Israeli politicians, plus Palestinian Authority prime minister Salam Fayyad. The candidate is seeing Netanyahu twice, in the morning for a meeting, and later for dinner with their wives. The husbands already know each other, and even worked together briefly long ago at Bain Capital. Though Netanyahu told TIME Managing Editor Rick Stengel that they weren’t exactly pals – “He was the whiz kid; I was just in the back of the room” — Romney boasts of the shared history. The men also share a professed esteem for capital markets (much to the chagrin of progressives), and of course antipathy to Obama. Romney refuses to criticize the president while traveling overseas, but his entire visit to Israel is framed by his famous accusation, during the GOP primary, that Obama is “throwing Israel under the bus.” [Continue reading…]
The Associated Press reports: Mitt Romney tried to pull back Sunday from an adviser’s suggestion that he favored new American aggression on Iran, distancing himself from comments that the U.S. presidential candidate would “respect” an Israeli decision for unilateral military action to prevent Tehran from gaining nuclear capability.
Hours after the aide previewed Romney’s upcoming foreign policy speech in Jerusalem, Romney backpedaled and said, “I’ll use my own words and that is I respect the right of Israel to defend itself and we stand with Israel. We’re two nations that come together in peace and that want to see Iran being dissuaded from its nuclear folly.”
The address by the Republican challenger to President Barack Obama was promoted as the centerpiece of a weeklong trip abroad designed to burnish his foreign policy credentials and highlight his ability to lead on the world stage. But the mixed signals on Iran could undermine that goal.
“Because I’m on foreign soil, I don’t want to be creating new foreign policy for my country or in any way to distance myself from the foreign policy of our nation, but we respect the right of a nation to defend itself,” the former Massachusetts governor told CBS’ “Face the Nation” a few hours before the speech and a day before a major fundraiser in the city.
Obama has affirmed the right of Israel to defend itself, while also warning of the consequences of an Israeli strike on Iran.