September 19, 2012
Romney’s Mideast Gaffes Lift Foreign Policy as Election Issue
By Danny Sebright
Mitt Romney’s several gaffes and missteps over the last few weeks particularly with regard to US Middle East policy will undeniably haunt him in the weeks prior to US elections in a similar, game-changing way John McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin did in 2008.
Recent mistakes made by Romney and his team regarding the Middle East are so egregious that he is quickly making foreign policy a hot-button topic in a general election that most observers assumed would focus primarily on the US economy and other domestic issues.
He has politicized issues that until this point have enjoyed wide bipartisan support and are long-stated US government policies. Having worked over the years to help implement America’s defense and foreign policy initiatives in the Middle East region, it is hard for me to know what is worse – whether these action have been a bungled attempt at political gain or reflect Governor Romney’s actual views. Either interpretation is frightening.
His missteps with Israel and the Palestinians going back to his July trip show that he is beyond tone-deaf with regard to America’s 40-year effort to aid the Israel-Palestine peace process. By publicly stating that the worth of Palestinian society is somehow less than that of the Israel’s, Romney has compromised his ability as a possible future president of the United States to be perceived as an honest broker in the Middle East Peace Process. This should be a salient point to the average American voter because the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains a vital US national interest at the core of America’s involvement in the Middle East. It is already being viewed with alarm by many of our friends and allies abroad.
Moreover, Romney and some neo-conservative members of his team have seemingly invited the current Israeli government to become directly involved in US elections. They apparently have encouraged the Netanyahu government to call for US red lines and potential military action against Iran. Governor Romney’s judgment on how he and his campaign have played these issues calls in to serious question his ability to ever lead on them if he were to become president. Never has the issue of the U.S.’ steadfast support for the state of Israel ever been so politicized in an election campaign as it has been this season.
Concurrently, Romney’s statements regarding Iran have only emboldened more in the Iranian government to believe that they can somehow wait out demands made by the US and the world regarding cessation of their nuclear weapons program.
Romney’s personal response, backed by his campaign and close supporters, to the murder of our ambassador to Libya last week in Benghazi is perhaps his most egregious foreign policy-related gaffe on public record. A cardinal rule is that no matter what, you first and always support the “troops” — in this case our foreign service personnel serving abroad. Romney tried to politicize an issue that only should have had one response — deep remorse and sympathy. As a gesture of unity of the American people, Romney should have called President Obama and proposed putting on hold all activities by both campaigns until the bodies of the fallen Americans were back at Andrews Air Force Base in the US. This is what a leader who cares about American interests might have done.
Over the last few months, Romney has been running for the job of president of the United States and he should be judged by the American people for the way he has responded to recent foreign policy challenges facing our country. The Middle East is a tough place for US presidents. As such, a candidate’s policy pronouncements and positions regarding the region should be carefully reviewed and weighed. Over the last few weeks, not only has Gov. Romney underperformed as a candidate, he may have also emboldened those who oppose us and further complicated an already complex set of foreign policy and security problems.
Undoubtedly, one has to wonder what Romney sees when he looks out of his back-door window.
Danny Sebright has worked on Middle East defense and foreign policy issues for the last 25 years including serving for a significant amount of time in various US embassies.