Mitt Romney’s foreign policy address at the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention today rehearsed some of the themes he has been trying to promote throughout the campaign. Romney got a standing ovation when he mentioned President Obama’s habit of giving apologies for America “that were not due” and also scored points on the topic of White House leaks of classified information and the administration’s “shabby” treatment of Israel. But in his survey of the country’s standing abroad, his strongest point was his highlighting of the president’s failure to stop Iran’s nuclear program.
Though President Obama continues to promise that Iran will not go nuclear on his watch, this is the one foreign policy front on which Romney’s attempt to pose the “are you better off than you were four years ago” question gives him a clear advantage. While the Republican candidate’s critique of the president’s announcement of a withdrawal date for all U.S. troops from Afghanistan is well-taken — and prompted an angry pushback from the president in his VFW speech yesterday — Obama is probably right to count on a war weary public to give him a pass on the advantage he has handed the Taliban. But the Iranian nuclear threat, which Obama has met with feckless “engagement,” futile diplomacy and belated and half-heartedly enforced sanctions, is an issue on which his position is difficult to defend. The question is, did Romney offer a coherent alternative policy? The answer is a qualified yes.
Lee Smith has an interesting take on one aspect of the administration’s calculated cyberleaks, produced obediently by the New York Times, detailing the cooperation between the U.S. and Israel in conducting cyberwarfare against the Iranian nuclear program. It’s true, Smith writes, that in one sense these articles are meant to make Obama seem tough, but they are also to pass the buck if and when things go wrong. Smith writes:
The nature of the story is given away in a quote from Vice President Joe Biden, exasperated after Stuxnet mistakenly appeared on the Web in the summer of 2010, exposing the code. Biden laid the blame at the feet of the administration’s ostensible partner. “It’s got to be the Israelis,” said Biden, according to an unnamed source. “They went too far.” In other words, the Obama White House wants it both ways—to claim credit for the successes of the cyberwarfare campaign and to shift blame on the Israelis in the event that things go wrong.
It’s telling that the administration thinks blaming Israel is a good election strategy, and Smith’s piece is worth reading in full. But a couple quotes from Israeli sources stood out to me. First Yossi Melman, the Israeli journalist, tells Smith: “Israeli officials know that it’s an election year… Israeli officials are not going to rock the boat and ruin the party.” Later in the story, an Israeli intelligence source tells Smith: “No Israeli government is going to be criticized for releasing a virus. We know we are at war, and America does not know it’s at war.”
I’m not so sure that’s the case, but it does reveal something else about the two countries: Israelis understand American politics well, and American officials and journalists don’t seem to understand Israeli politics at all.