Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Romney on the Middle East

Mitt Romney penned an editorial for he Wall Street Journal, criticizing the President's Middle East policy and pretending to offer an alternative.
OK, so what do we have here? America needs to support our partners. We need to restore our credibility with Iran, by making them believe that we really, really don't want them to have nuclear weapons. We need to place no daylight between ourselves and Israel. And we need to encourage liberty and opportunity. That line about "the dignity of work" is a little odd—maybe the problem they have in the Middle East is too many 47 percenters? So where's the new policy again?

But in the next paragraph, he says he's going to give us "a very different set of policies." So here it comes, right? The answer is ... "American strength in all its dimensions." Ah yes. Strength. Resolve. If you ask "How, precisely, will you achieve these goals?" then you're obviously a weakling who can't grasp the full majesty of Mitt Romney's chin, which when jutted in the direction of our adversaries will make them quake before us and submit to our demands.
Ed Kilgore provides a more detailed analysis.
Put aside for a moment the arguments about Iran’s ultimate intentions and its alleged historically unique indifference to nuclear deterrence, or about the actual balance of military power in the Middle East. Forget if you can the calamitous consequences, not only to regional peace and stability, but to the U.S. and global economies, of war with Iran.

Think about this: Mitt Romney is running for president on a platform of indistinguishable and conjoined exceptionalism for the U.S. and Israel. And because Israel faces a vastly greater military threat, this means America would abandon its own independence of action and consign its fate to Bibi Netanyahu, a man whose views on peace and security are highly controversial in Israel itself.
The problem is not so much that Romney wants to eliminate daylight between the U.S. and Israel - it's that he cannot actually articulate a policy reason to do so, and if he knows anything of the region (and I suspect he knows very little) he has to understand that a U.S. embrace of Netanyahu's policies and of its stance on Iran is not going to help us work with the region's nascent democracies or endear us to the man on the street.

Good gravy, does Romney believe this in relation to the Middle East?
The first step is to understand how we got here. Since World War II, America has been the leader of the Free World. We're unique in having earned that role not through conquest but through promoting human rights, free markets and the rule of law. We ally ourselves with like-minded countries, expand prosperity through trade and keep the peace by maintaining a military second to none.
Which of our close relationships in the Middle East does Romney believe demonstrates our promotion of human rights, free markets and the rule of law? With the exception of Israel, where our lack of support for Palestinian rights has done anything but endear us to the rest of the Middle East, the best we can point to is Egypt, with the successive dictatorships of Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak and a mediocre human rights record, and the monarchy in Jordan. We used to have the Shah of Iran, for what that's worth - was he one of the "like-minded" leaders Romney has in mind. We have the monarchs of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. We really don't want to spend much time talking about Iran, Syria, Lebanon.... So, no, we don't have a good track record in the Middle East, we're not viewed by the Arab and Persian populations of the Middle East as champions of human rights, and our notions of governance and the rule of law remain alien to the day-to-day lives of most of the region's populations.

Given that Romney feigns umbrage (from Rush Limgaugh's mouth to Romney's ear) about the President's off-the-cuff statement that Israel is "one of our closest allies" in the region, I would be interested to hear Romney explain our alliances with key nations in the region, most specifically how our alliance with Israel compares to our treaty-based alliance with Turkey. I would also like to hear him explain how he would have avoided the mistakes of the Bush era and created a government in Iraq that he would comfortably include as "one of our best allies in the region", or how he would have kept a post-dictatorship Egypt within that category.

If Romney truly believes that the path to good relations with the nations of the Middle East lies in more than bellicosity toward Iran, involves supporting "governments and individuals who share our values" and requires asserting influence through "our economic strength, our military strength and the strength of our values", I would be interested to hear him explain in concrete terms how his proposed actions won't constitute a setback for our Middle East efforts, what governments other than Israel's he believes to share our values, and the concrete steps he plans to take to improve our standing and increase our influence with the people and governments of the region.

Obviously I won't be holding my breath.

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