Romney’s New Middle East Policy

He respects Israel’s right to defend itself against Iran’s nuclear capabilities and the Israeli government has the right to determine its own capital – Jerusalem. 

By Daniel Greenfield l July 30, 2012


There was once a time when the Middle East was a minor sideline in American foreign policy. But from a region that was deemed too unimportant to have its own proper name, the Middle East has become the crossroads of American foreign policy and the graveyard of administration policies.

Romney’s visit to Israel comes as Iran’s nuclear program approaches the red line. But beyond Iran there is the Arab Spring and the Peace Process. There are new problems and old problems waiting to test any administration willing to venture into the region. A candidate is not a president, but just as the child is father to the man, a glimpse of the candidate can tell us something of what a president intends to do.

The Obama Administration was determined to rearrange the Middle East to its liking by controlling it first through soft power, and, when that failed in Libya and then Syria, through brute force. Romney’s speech and remarks in Israel, as well as those of his advisers, have revealed a leader who is less focused on controlling the region and more open to allowing American allies to do what is right for them.

Domestically Romney has been running against big government control and in Jerusalem he appeared to extend that policy into the international arena. Rather than seeking world government, he had come seeking allies with common interests and values.

In interviews, Romney repeated several times that he respects Israel’s right to defend itself against Iran’s nuclear capabilities. On moving the America embassy to Jerusalem, he stated that the Israeli government had the right to determine its own capital. Both are sharp departures from the policies of the current administration which has refused to acknowledge Israel’s capital and has been obsessed with controlling Israel in a regional game of appeasement chess.

The Obama Administration has viewed containment as a means of keeping Israel and Iran apart while the Arab Spring blossomed. Its Iran policy is aimed more toward preventing Israel from taking action against Iran, than toward stopping Iran’s nuclear program. In addition to the same failed policies that were used on North Korea, the Obama Administration added a dose of minor sabotage.

During his meeting with Romney, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made it clear that this policy had failed. “We have to be honest and say that all the sanctions and diplomacy so far have not set back the Iranian program by one iota.” Iran’s Foreign Minister added an unintentional note of support by boasting that Iran had been under sanctions for 33 years and that it would find a way around the banking sanctions within two months.

In his speech at the Jerusalem Foundation, Romney said, “We must not delude ourselves into thinking that containment is an option.” Countering the Obama Administration’s commitment to endless dialogue, Romney instead stated that, “It is sometimes said that those who are the most committed to stopping the Iranian regime from securing nuclear weapons are reckless and provocative and inviting war. The opposite is true. We are the true peacemakers. History teaches with force and clarity that when the world’s most despotic regimes secure the world’s most destructive weapons, peace often gives way to oppression, to violence, or to devastating war.”

But while some in the media have attacked Romney as a warmonger, the speech remained consistent with his position of empowering American allies, rather than attempting to control the world. Romney had focused not on threatening war, but on asserting that Israel had the right to defend itself.  In practical terms that would mean that rather than attacking Iran, Romney would not prevent Israel from taking out Iran’s nuclear program and would provide a certain amount of logistical support to enable it to do a safer and more complete job of eliminating Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

Romney has not broken entirely with the diplomatic track, both he and advisor Dan Senor reaffirmed a commitment to diplomacy, but unlike the soft power of the current administration, this diplomatic track would be directly backed by the use of force. While Obama has claimed in the past that the military option is not entirely off the table, his administration has done its best to keep it that way. Romney’s approach is a more realistic response to the failure of soft power and to the approaching red line that will make Iran’s nuclear capabilities real, rather than hypothetical.

On the Peace Process, Romney’s choice to meet with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, rather than Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, sent a message that a Romney Administration would turn its back on Abbas, the way that George W. Bush had turned his back on Arafat and chosen to work with Abbas instead. Since then Abbas has become nearly as corrupt and authoritarian as Arafat, while Fayyad is viewed as yet another faint hope for reform.  Fayyad may prove to be as corrupt as every other Palestinian Authority official, but meeting with him, rather than with Abbas, gave Romney yet another opportunity to differentiate himself from the current administration.

Abbas was the first foreign leader whom Obama called after taking office. Disdaining Abbas is another break with another piece of Obama’s foreign policy. And with Abbas gathering more power and isolating Fayyad, the meeting was a rebuke of the Obama Administration and European governments who had backed Fayyad as a reformer, but had failed to stand behind their words by ignoring Abbas and dealing only with Fayyad.

The Palestinian Authority and Hamas reacted angrily to Romney’s meeting as well as his affirmation that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. Even Islamic Jihad, the PFLP and the DFLP joined in the attacks indicating that Mitt Romney had managed to infuriate every single leading Palestinian Arab terrorist group in one single trip.

More fundamentally Romney offered a change in tone. While Obama had distanced the United States from the cultural connections to its traditional allies, instead working to build cultural connections with the Muslim world, his election rival returned to the traditional theme of American presidents revisiting the cultural ties between the United States and the United Kingdom, and between the United States and Israel.

This tone has alienated those who prefer a post-American Presidency based on soft power and multicultural relativism. Romney’s assertion that successful nations share common values that failed nations do not is a reversal of the current administration’s belief that failed nations are victims of successful nations. And that ideological reversal also suggests a policy reversal away from an ideology that treats failed states as victims and successful states as abusers.

Critics have blasted Romney for contrasting the GDP per capita in Israel and the Palestinian Authority, but the picture is just as sharply divided when looking at the GDP per capita of Israel and any of its neighbors. While Israel ranks 23rd on the IMF’s rankings, just behind the European Union and Japan, Jordan is 107th, Egypt is 104th and Syria is 118th. The notion that these differences are not only variations in numbers, but also in values, remains politically incorrect, but was once considered common sense.

This fit the overriding theme of Romney’s visit which was not so much the breaking of new ground, but the knitting together of elements from an older relationship into a new understanding. Romney’s new Middle East policy combines hints of an older policy grounded in the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush with a greater willingness to step back and allow American allies like Israel to act in their own interests and in America’s interests without constantly worrying about the impact that this will have on American efforts to build bridges with hostile states such as Iran.

Romney came asking Israelis to trust him and in turn he offered them his trust, on Iran and Jerusalem. With trust between the two respective governments at their lowest level in decades, that note of trust may lead to a revival of the relationship and a new way forward for the entire region.

Daniel Greenfield is a New York City-based writer and freelance commentator with a special focus on the War on Terror and the rising threat to Western Civilization. Mr. Greenfield is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center. He maintains a blog and is a contributor to

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