In parts one and two of this series, I discussed President Obama’s often problematic relationship with Israel. While noting his decision not to interfere with the existing security relationship between the two countries, there is no doubt that the alliance has suffered from his lack of empathy for Israel, his active hostility toward Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, and doubts about his willingness to do more than talk about the threat from a nuclear Iran. But the other side of the question facing pro-Israel voters is whether Mitt Romney provides a clear alternative to Obama on Israel-related issues.
Romney would come into office with a lot of good will from Israelis, whom polls show prefer him to Obama. He also has a better relationship with Netanyahu (though it is hard to imagine anyone having a worse one). But arguments for Romney on Israel-related issues have a lot more to do with the fact that he is not Barack Obama than with his own virtues. Though there are some fundamental differences between the two that speak well for Romney, Jewish Republicans are in some respects taking a leap of faith about the GOP candidate in much the same way as some Democrats did with Obama.
As I discussed in part one of this post, the discussion of the impact of the U.S. presidential election on Israel tends to be exaggerated. Just as it is absurd to speak of a man who clearly has little genuine sympathy for the Jewish state as its best friend ever to sit in the White House (as Democrats falsely assert), it is equally foolish to claim that Israel’s survival hangs on the outcome, since the alliance between the two countries is so entrenched in our political culture that severing it is probably beyond the capacity of even a re-elected president. However, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that four more years of Barack Obama will mean more tension between the U.S. and Israel that will undermine the relationship and encourage the Jewish state’s foes, to no purpose. Yet the inevitable spats over the peace process with the Palestinians pale in significance when compared to what may be Israel’s greatest current security challenge: a nuclear Iran.
Any account of the last four years of U.S. policy toward Iran must begin with the fact that President Obama has left himself very little room to maneuver out of a commitment to stop Tehran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. The president has been consistent in stating that he will not allow this to happen on his watch since he was first running for president in 2008. Since then, he has repeated this mantra and significantly elaborated on it while running for re-election. He has acknowledged that a nuclear Iran is a danger to U.S. security, rather than just an existential threat to Israel. This past March, the president specifically repudiated the possibility of “containing” a nuclear Iran but said that it must be stopped from attaining such a weapon. During the third presidential debate, he said the only deal he will accept with Iran is one that precludes their having a “nuclear program,” something that would preclude the sort of compromise favored by America’s European allies that would allow Tehran to keep its reactors and fuel–leaving open the possibility of a North Korea-style evasion of international diplomatic efforts.
Yet the question remains what will a re-elected President Obama do if the belated sanctions he imposed on Iran (and whose loose enforcement is itself an issue) do not convince them to give in to his demands? Will he keep the “window for diplomacy” open to allow the Iranians to go on delaying until they reach their nuclear goal? That’s something no one can know for sure, but which must haunt friends of Israel.
If you listen to President Obama’s Jewish surrogates, you hear them tell you that Barack Obama is the best friend Israel ever had in the White House. According to the president’s Jewish detractors, he is one of its worst foes and his re-election could lead to its destruction. Where does the truth lie?
Let’s start with one clear fact. Israel’s survival does not depend on who is elected president of the United States. As important as the U.S.-Israel alliance may be — and it is absolutely vital to the state of Israel’s well-being and security — the Jewish state will not collapse if Barack Obama is re-elected. Nor will it enter a new golden age if Mitt Romney wins. Responsibility for Israel’s defense falls primarily on the shoulders of someone who is not on the ballot on Tuesday: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. If the president of the United States seeks in the next four years to pressure Israel to do something that will undermine its security, Netanyahu — or one of his opponents, should he fail to be re-elected in parliamentary elections that will take place the day after the American president is inaugurated — can say no, just as his predecessors have done. Israel’s leaders have rarely been shy about taking unilateral or pre-emptive action to forestall a threat, and that won’t change. It should also be pointed out that the infrastructure of the U.S.-Israel relationship is so deeply entrenched into America’s political culture that even should the president seek to significantly alter or undermine that alliance, the political price for such a decision would be so costly as to deter all but the most fanatical ideologue.
That said, there would be significant differences between a second Obama administration and a first one for Romney in terms of the impact on Israel.
Those inclined to consider the talk about the embrace between New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and President Obama in the wake of Hurricane Sandy as being more the result of hyperactive political reporting on the eve of the election than a genuine controversy might have been right. But yesterday’s Politico story about the governor being Mitt Romney’s first choice to be his running mate lent credence to the notion that there was some substance to the notion that Christie was up to something. The anonymously sourced story seemed to indicate Christie was the likely veep nominee until late in the process when he was suddenly dropped in favor of Paul Ryan. The upshot of the piece seemed to be that Christie and his friends were mad about being used as decoys or thought he had been snubbed.
All this is leading some observers to not unreasonably connect the dots between this, Christie’s convention speech in which he barely mentioned Romney, and his much-publicized post-hurricane “bromance” with Obama. Whether they are right about that is an open question, but there is little doubt that if Christie doesn’t want Republican activists (whom presumably he will need if he runs for president in the future) holding a grudge against him for sandbagging their candidate in the last week of a close race, then he needs to listen to this New York Post editorial and give the country a loud and clear reminder that he wants Romney to win on Tuesday, not Obama.
As I wrote last night, liberal analysts are right when they point out that the preponderance of state polls have greatly strengthened President Obama’s hopes for re-election. But a couple of the latest ones published this morning contradict that conviction, which caused New York Times columnist Paul Krugman to claim only stupid people think the election is not a cinch for Obama. One Democratic-leaning pollster has Romney ahead by one point in supposedly deep-blue Michigan, while a new Pennsylvania poll shows the race there deadlocked.
These may be outliers, but even a Nobel laureate (and, as the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto likes to say, “former Enron advisor”) like Krugman is smart enough to understand that if Romney wins Pennsylvania and Michigan, Obama has virtually no chance to get to 270 electoral votes. The point here is that while we are all rightly focused on who will win Ohio, the president’s hold on a number of states that were thought to be likely Democrat wins is far from secure. What’s happened in the last month since the Denver debate turned the race around is not just a surge of Republican strength in the South and the West but a surprising comeback for the GOP in the rust belt and the Midwest.
The administration spent almost two months releasing as little public information as possible about the Benghazi attack, presumably for reasons both strategic and political–it is sensitive information from a national security standpoint and from a campaign standpoint. But now a deluge of new information is pouring out of the government, thanks in part to what looks like finger-pointing between the State Department and CIA over who bears responsibility for not preventing or stopping the attack which left four Americans dead.
The Wall Street Journal is in the forefront with this long article, which has an anti-Petraeus spin because it leads with the information that the CIA director did not attend the funerals of two of his security contractors who were killed in Benghazi (he did not want to blow their covers, even posthumously). See also this David Ignatius column and an article in the New York Times.
In the New York Times Book Review, Judith Newman reviews Ian Frazier’s laugh-out-loud funny book, The Cursing Mommy’s Book of Days — the year-long diary of the fictional character he made famous in his New Yorker pieces. Frazier’s character writes a local advice column, conveying helpful household hints that somehow always produce catastrophes for her instead, which she then generally blames on … the Bush administration.
Demonstrating the proper use of a hammock, she becomes entangled as it spins in one direction and then another, finally depositing her in a clump on the ground — which she blames on the eff’n goddamn hammock lobbyists who “pushed this goddamn hazardous hammock through Congress with the help of the Bush administration.” Explaining the use of a new travel suitcase with multiple compartments and zippers, she gets caught in the zippers, ultimately destroys the bag — and blames it on the eff’n Bush administration, “when suitcases in this country started going to shit!” Early in the year, the Cursing Mommy’s book club is reading Why the Bush Administration REALLY Sucks, and she records in her diary that:
Remember this story the next time you hear Democrats lament the “philosophy of obstructionism” in the “extremist” Republican-controlled House:
“Mitt Romney’s fantasy that Senate Democrats will work with him to pass his ‘severely conservative’ agenda is laughable,” Reid said in a statement released by his office.
“In fact, Mitt Romney’s tea party agenda has already been rejected in the Senate. In the past few months, we have voted down many of the major policies that Mitt Romney has run on, from the Ryan plan to end Medicare as we know it, to the Blunt Amendment to deny women access to contraception, to more tax giveaways for millionaires and billionaires, to a draconian spending plan that would gut critical services for seniors and the most vulnerable Americans.”
Reid added: “Mitt Romney has demonstrated that he lacks the courage to stand up to the tea party, kowtowing to their demands time and again. There is nothing in Mitt Romney’s record to suggest he would act any differently as president. As governor of Massachusetts, he had a terrible relationship with Democrats, cordoning himself off behind a velvet rope instead of reaching out to build relationships. And in the near-decade that Mitt Romney has spent running for president, both his words and his actions have shown that pleasing the far right is more important to him than working across the aisle.”
The latest crop of opinion polls has generally brought good news for Democrats. The Real Clear Politics average of all the national polls has given President Obama a slight lead, after this poll of polls had shown him trailing since Mitt Romney’s post-Denver debate comeback changed the race. Even more important, polls of likely voters in the battleground states have given the president leads in most of them. This caused New York Times blogger Nate Silver to double down on his forecast predicting an Obama win. According to Silver, Obama now has an 83.7 percent likelihood of prevailing on Tuesday.
We’ll leave aside the arguments about Silver’s odds-making, which depicts what even most liberals concede is an extremely close election as a near certain Obama win. Suffice it to say, as I wrote on Thursday, Silver’s belief that Obama had a field goal lead with 3 minutes left in the game (which he may now think is more like a 4-point lead with 2 minutes left) is based on a belief that the polls he trusts are accurate. On Saturday, however, he returned to the question that has to be haunting his readers: what if these polls aren’t accurate? While he admits the possibility, he thinks it unlikely that so many surveys could be in error. That seems logical, even persuasive. But the problem with that assumption is the same as it has been for the past month. Most of the polls showing Obama ahead either nationally or in some states reflect a common bias: their sample reflects a picture of the electorate that resembles the 2008 Democratic advantage. But this year we expect the gap in party identification to be smaller. In short, unless the Democrats match or exceed the massive “hope and change” surge of four years ago, then what Silver and the Democrats who look to his column for encouragement fear will be true: all the pro-Obama state polls are going to turn out to be quite wrong.