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Romney vs. Obama on Israel: Is it that clear?

July 31, 2012|By Michael McGough
  • Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney visits the Western Wall in Jerusalem's old city.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney visits the Western Wall… (Uriel Sinai / Getty Images )

Suppose a voting issue for you is which presidential candidate would be more likely to acquiesce in an Israeli air raid against Iran'snuclear program. Superficially, it's no contest. Mitt Romney has said there wouldn't be an "inch" between the U.S. and Israel if he were president, and he gave a tough speech in Jerusalem saying that preventing Iran from developing the capacity to build a nuclear weapon "our highest national security priority."

On the other hand, as my colleague Maeve Reston pointed out:

"Romney did not explicitly break with the policy set out by his Democratic opponent, President Obama, who has said that no option is off the table when dealing with Iran. Although Romney has insisted that he would not criticize the president during a three-country tour, he implicitly did so toward the end of his speech."

EDITORIAL: Romney pandering on the world stage

But, on the third hand:

"'Standing by Israel does not mean with military and intelligence cooperation alone,' he said. 'We cannot stand silent as those who seek to undermine Israel voice their criticisms. And we certainly should not join in that criticism. Diplomatic distance in public between our nations emboldens Israel's adversaries.' "

Then there was what Romney didn't say. He didn't reiterate his aide Dan Senor's comment that "If Israel has to take action on its own to stop Iran from developing that capability, the governor would respect that decision."  Asked about Senor's formulation, Romney said: "I respect the right of Israel to defend itself and America [is] always on the side of Israel, but  I'm not going to be more specific than that with regards to the actions Israel might take."

Was this a case of bad cop/really bad cop?

Put  aside the objection that the real issue is not whether the U.S. would bless an Israeli  strike but whether it would commit to acting against Iran on its own as the price for Israeli patience. Romney seems to be trying to communicate the idea that, as part of his general refusal to throw Israel under the bus, he would be more sympathetic to Israeli concerns on Iran. But he's leaving enough ambiguity to allow him to reposition himself on this issue (though maybe not on the status of Jerusalem) if he's elected.

Even a straddle like that probably makes him more attractive to voters who think Obama is insufficiently supportive of Israel.  But, given Romney's past migrations on various policies, they'll have to give him a big benefit of the doubt.

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