The Jewish Press
Oct 16 2011
In the first major foreign policy speech of his presidential campaign, Mitt Romney said he would increase defense assistance to Israel, raise the U.S. military profile near Iran and recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and frontrunner for the Republican nomination, delivered the speech last Friday at The Citadel, a military college in South Carolina – a key early primary state he initially was given little chance of winning.
Now, with Texas Governor Rick Perry’s campaign in the doldrums, Romney is making forays into the state. Another sign of Romney’s growing confidence is that he departed from his signature issue of economic competence to concentrate on foreign policy in his speech. Romney’s address demonstrated the extent to which Israel has become a consensus issue for the overwhelming majority of the Republican Party and nearly all its presidential candidates.
Romney promised his audience that as president he would restore the United States to its position as undisputed world leader by rebuilding the sources of American strength: “a strong economy, a strong defense, and the enduring strength of our values.”Obama, argued Romney, had permitted all three of these sources to atrophy. Despite America’s weakened economic position, he said, America under a President Romney would not heed the isolationist siren nor would it seek refuge in a balance of power system where the United States is merely one player. “I will not surrender America’s role in the world. This is very simple: If you do not want America to be the strongest nation on Earth, I am not your president. You have that president today.”
Romney hammered Obama for appearing to accommodate America’s rivals while displaying coolness to allies. “Our friends and allies must have no doubts about where we stand,” he said. “And neither should our rivals.” Romney returned to this theme later in his address: ” I will bolster and repair our alliances. Our friends should never fear that we will not stand by them in an hour of need. I will reaffirm as a vital national interest Israel’s existence as a Jewish state. I will count as dear our special relationship with the United Kingdom.”
Administration spokesmen note that the Obama and Netanyahu governments have smoothed relations in recent months and that Israeli officials credit the administration with tightening defense ties and backing Israel at the United Nations. Obama also refers to Israel as a Jewish state, though he has not issued a formal declaration of such recognition.
Romney raised the subject of Israel repeatedly in his address, starting with the foreign policy hazards he saw facing the U.S. in the immediate future. The first problem he mentioned was the threat posed by a nuclear Iran, and he suggested Israel might be further isolated by 2015 if Obama remains in office. “Will Iran be a fully activated nuclear weapons state, threatening its neighbors, dominating the world’s oil supply with a stranglehold on the Strait of Hormuz?” he asked.
“In the hands of the ayatollahs, a nuclear Iran is nothing less than an existential threat to Israel. Iran’s suicidal fanatics could blackmail the world. By 2015, will Israel be even more isolated by a hostile international community? Will those who seek Israel’s destruction feel emboldened by American ambivalence? Will Israel have been forced to fight yet another war to protect its citizens and its right to exist?”
Romney said that as president he would “enhance our deterrent against the Iranian regime by ordering the regular presence of aircraft carrier task forces, one in the Eastern Mediterranean and one in the Persian Gulf region. I will begin discussions with Israel to increase the level of our military assistance and coordination. And I will again reiterate that Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon is unacceptable.” Romney said those “who seek Israel’s destruction” feel emboldened by American ambivalence and this might force Israel into fighting another war for its existence.
Romney pledged to help transform the UN and other international bodies that have become “forums for the tantrums of tyrants and the airing of the world’s most ancient of prejudices: anti-Semitism.” He also said he would centralize U.S. Middle East policy to ensure “that the Arab Spring does not fade into a long winter.”
The speech came a day after Romney published a list of his foreign policy advisers, including many who have been active in or are close to the pro-Israel community. Nearly all of Romney’s 22 special advisers held senior defense, diplomacy or intelligence positions in the administration of George W. Bush, including former homeland security secretary Michael Chertoff and former undersecretaries of defense Eric Edelman and Dov Zakheim.
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