Political Animal


January 27, 2012 8:50 AM “We Will Not Have An Inch of Difference….”

By Ed Kilgore

Foreign policy has not been a particularly important topic in the 2012 presidential cycle to much of anyone other than Ron Paul. But there was an interesting moment in last night’s GOP candidate debate when Mitt Romney said something that just seemed jarring in the context of his and hs party’s commitment to an ideology of American Exceptionalism and rhetoric of truculent unilateralism. Asked (by an audience member identifying himself as Palenstinian-American) about U.S. Middle Eastern policy, Romney replied:

The best way to have peace in the Middle East is not for us to vacillate and to appease, but is to say we stand with our friend Israel; we are committed to a Jewish state in Israel; we will not have an inch of difference between ourselves and our ally Israel.

Newt Gingrich promptly said “Governor Romney is exactly right.”

Now forget about the first two clauses of Romney’s statement, and in fact—please, I am not, repeat not, trying to start a debate about what the U.S. should and shouldn’t do in the Middle East—forget about the merits of the entire Middle East dispute. Isn’t it a bit odd, even somewhat unprecedented, for a prospective U.S. president to announce in advance that he is giving an ally a blank check to control U.S. policy in a major region of the world? It’s certainly not the kind of unconditional support the current government of Israel would reciprocate, and nor should they. Even the closest allies maintain some freedom of maneuver once the terms of explicit diplomatic agreements are discharged, and given its power, the U.S. is in the habit of insisting on an independent course as a matter of both principle and expediency.

There are obviously a lot of reasons that most Republican leaders, and for that matter a lot of Democrats, have abandoned the “honest broker” posture towards the Middle East that was taken for granted when George W. Bush and Al Gore debated this subject during the 2000 election cycle. Still, it’s one thing to suggest that the U.S. will naturally favor its historic ally in intractable disputes. It’s another thing altogether to outsource your policies unconditionally to a foreign government whose positions on matters of war and peace are more than a little controversial to its own people, particularly if your represent the supposedly hard-core U.S. nationalist party that claims it doesn’t trust anybody or anything other than naked self-interest and military power. Perhaps the refusal of contemporary conservatives to see allies anywhere else in the world—certainly not among those debt-ridden socialists of Europe—has made them hold Israel all the closer. But an awful lot of Israelis would tell you that giving this sort of total leverage over the United States to Bibi Netanyahu is not an act to be taken lightly. He will not hesitate to use it.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Bob M on January 27, 2012 9:00 AM:

    Israel makes the US look bad, period. That is pretty well an accepted fact by now.

  • DAY on January 27, 2012 9:02 AM:

    Statements uttered during a campaign have no bearing on reality- or future positions on anything, from nuclear disarmament to child labor laws.
    They are merely momentary pandering for the vote of anyone in earshot.

  • greennotGreen on January 27, 2012 9:06 AM:

    You spent a whole column on this? I had just assumed that Romney and Gingrich lied - like they have about everything else. If you were a foreign country, would you depend on either of them to keep his word?

  • Kathy P on January 27, 2012 9:11 AM:

    This article in Foreign Policy magazine gives a pretty good reason why we shouldn't out source our Mid-East policy to Israel.


  • c u n d gulag on January 27, 2012 9:16 AM:

    Well, this will counter our KenyanSocialistFascistCommunistAthiestMuslim President's undying support for the Palestinians - and who takes his orders solely from Mecca!

    Er... Uhm... MITT!

  • Ron Byers on January 27, 2012 9:17 AM:

    They are pandering to the one topic Jewish American billionaires funding their campaigns. Obama does exactly the same thing. I don't blame the Jewish billionaires. I do blame the Supreme Court for Citizens United.

  • jeanne marie on January 27, 2012 9:18 AM:

    I am sure the questioner was thrilled.

  • berttheclock on January 27, 2012 9:19 AM:

    Does Mitt really need Adelson's money? However, in Vegas there are those really know how to lay off their bets.

  • steve on January 27, 2012 9:20 AM:

    Newt's position is expected given the source of his campaign financing. Romney is just posturing. Of course, Obama's stated position is not far from Willard\Newt. Its scary how much influence a small group of individuals have on our politics.

  • lou on January 27, 2012 9:31 AM:

    Not just pandering to the billionaire friends of Israel but to the millions of evangies who see Israel playing a central role in their rapture.

  • JEA on January 27, 2012 9:33 AM:

    The reason conservatives want to "hold Israel all the closer" is that the Evangelical wing - the same people who made all those "Left Behind"books best sellers - believes that the reestablishment of Israel in 1948 heralds the beginning of the return of Jesus Christ according to their interpretation of the Bible and thei belief that God will bless those that bless Israel and curse those who curse her.

  • SYSPROG on January 27, 2012 9:34 AM:

    Without debating the entire policy on the Mid-East, yes, this is the 'policy' of the GOP if your entire campaign (the GOP campaign) is being financed by those billionaires that think Israel is the only way to keep peace over there. It's hard to be a hater AND nuanced.

  • Josef K on January 27, 2012 9:39 AM:

    Well, you have to admit its easier than having to actually think about actual policy, especially in a region as confusing and unstable as Asia Minor.

    And contra to most of the comments here so far, I really do think this would be the established policy in a Romney Administration. As I said, its easier than their coming up with their own, and frankly the Republican caucus's current inclinations would lead them there anyway.

  • walt on January 27, 2012 9:40 AM:

    It's fascinating to see the right, traditionally anti-cosmopolitan (read: anti-semitic) now falling over itself in fealty to Israel. I think the simplest explanation is that the anti-cosmopolitan vibe has morphed into another tradition, bigotry against the darker-skinned other. Israelis are virtual Americans! Judeo to our Christian! Muslims, on the other hand, are terrorists.

    Imagine a liberal promising to give France veto power over our foreign policy. The rage from the right would be so intense that it would burn down Washington. But then the French aren't actively oppressing brown people. That's why they're wrong about everything.

  • Pal2008 on January 27, 2012 9:50 AM:

    It is tangled up with the jewish-christian religion, faith belief system. Israel is God's chosen and you can't argue with that. Believe or go to hell!

  • AndThenThere'sThat on January 27, 2012 9:50 AM:

    So if/when Israel deems launching a preemptive strike on an Iranian nuclear acquisition target to be in its self interest, is Romney essentially saying he supports instituting the draft for all us peon Americans to backstop ww3 or is it just another trillion or two in defense spending tax dollars that will get sent over as proxy? Cuz, I kinda don't like option a or b.

  • Kathryn on January 27, 2012 9:58 AM:

    Wouldn't Newt refer to the questioner as an Invented person-American? Yes, they are all pandering and Pres. Obama does it too, but let's not lose sight of Romney's advisors in this area, right wing neo cons every one.

  • JimL on January 27, 2012 9:59 AM:

    I guess neither of them want the vote of the Palestinian-American who asked the question. I'm sure that was the last thing he wanted to hear.

  • JMG on January 27, 2012 10:02 AM:

    Israel holds a large number of dark-skinned people in a stateless limbo without political rights. Therefore, it is the Republican Party ideal.

  • Another Steve on January 27, 2012 10:15 AM:

    Isn't it a bit odd, even somewhat unprecedented, for a prospective U.S. president to announce in advance that he is giving an ally a blank check to control U.S. policy in a major region of the world?

    Certainly unprecedented in U.S. history. And quite possibly that's because the last time the leader of a major foreign power gave the junior partner in an alliance the kind of blank check in dealing with a hostile neighbor that Romney is talking about giving Israel was 1914. The leader was, of course, Kaiser Wilhelm, the ally was Austria-Hungary and the hostile neighbor was Serbia. And, until our nation reached the point where one of the major political parties deemed complete ignorance of history, military and foreign affairs an actual qualification for office, the example kept leaders from doing or saying that kind of damnfool thing, even to pander to the worst instincts of the worst elements in an electorate.

  • MichMan on January 27, 2012 10:18 AM:

    You know, this kind of rhetoric is beginning to remind me of the China rhetoric by the Republicans in the 50s. Almost down to the "Unleash Chiang Kaishek!" aka "Let Israel attack Iran!" Anyone not toeing the line on slavish support is "Soft on communism/terrorism."

  • golack on January 27, 2012 10:30 AM:

    The POG's plan on outsourcing everything else, why not foreign policy? K-street is for the money, Embassy Row is because they're lazy.

  • chi res on January 27, 2012 10:43 AM:

    It's a "born again" thing; you wouldn't understand.

  • SecularAnimist on January 27, 2012 11:15 AM:

    Ed Kilgore wrote: "Isnít it a bit odd, even somewhat unprecedented, for a prospective U.S. president to announce in advance that he is giving an ally a blank check to control U.S. policy in a major region of the world?"

    What are you talking about? It's not "odd" or "unprecedented".

    On the contrary, pretty much every "prospective U.S. president" who has run for that office in the last 50 years has said the same thing.

    It would be "odd" and "unprecedented" for a major party political candidate to announce that the US is prepared to break with or oppose Israel's position on any issue of the slightest significance.

  • tko on January 27, 2012 11:16 AM:

    "we will not have an inch of difference between ourselves and our ally Israel."

    We have modeled our DHS policies after IDF policies. We have militarized our police force like the Israelis and we are treated like Palestinians when we protest, hence the rubber bullets and tear gas canisters fired directly at people. Yeah, very little difference at all sometimes. On the other hand, the Palestinians in Israel are treated like the Indians of the Old West. Any means to take their land, by hook or by crook. Is this an exchange of cultures?

  • Highguy on January 27, 2012 4:40 PM:

    With all the empty rhetoric floating around these debates, I just always presumed that this kind of talk is to get the American Jewish voter to vote Republican.

    It's funny that the typical American Jewish voter is an Obama supporter-- and not necessarily because he's such a liberal. But because typical American Jewish voters tend to be concerned with social issues, and the Democrats, from their stance on abortion to economic issues, tend to jive with us.

    Not saying that every American Jew is a Democrat or Liberal, but the history of our people in this country has proven that we prefer the forward thinking of liberalism over the rigid, economic-centric aspects of conservativism.

    But it's awesome to read how Israel has been making America look bad ever since its existence (first comment of the thread). How empty minded is that type of retort?

    Israel has a right to exist. There is a predominant movement in the Arab countries and their leadership to deny this. We must keep this concept in proper perspective if we really want to understand what is being debated here.

    Oh, and Mitt ain't gonna get jack from the typical American Jew. Nobody appreciated the Mormon church posthumously converting dead Holocaust victims. We don't forget that type of shit.

  • Highguy on January 27, 2012 4:48 PM:

    JMG on January 27, 2012 10:02 AM:

    Israel holds a large number of dark-skinned people in a stateless limbo without political rights. Therefore, it is the Republican Party ideal.

    Wow. This blog has some f#cked up bs going on. Amazing how this board might as well be coming from Stormfront.

    Sorry, Champ, but half of the original Israeli population were dark skinned. A huge chunk of the current Israeli population are African Jews.

    See, Ed, this is why you can't have a debate about Israel on the internet.

    Final thought on the matter is that these posters with strawman arguments don't DESERVE peace in the Middle East. And I hope they never, ever see it. May Israel's continued existence piss them off for an eternity. The Middle Eastern Jew isn't going anywhere, especially since most Arab countries in the region kicked them out when Israel was created.

    People who post like above are the racists. You are the apartheid supporters.

    I need a shower.

  • larry birnbaum on January 27, 2012 8:19 PM:

    I think this is a misreading of the point. The point is that allies hash their differences out in private as much as possible and come to some agreement so as to present a united front in public. I'm not going to vote for either Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney. But there's no question that the Obama administration for some reason thought that publicly opening space between us and Israel on a number of issues would have some kind of positive impact on the Arab-Israeli conflict. This was a completely mistaken idea. It led to further Arab intransigence -- the Palestinians started piling more and more preconditions on the plate just to agree to negotiations. It led to increased Israeli insecurity, which in turn led to increased Israeli political rigidity. And then in the end when the administration could not in fact impose its (weirdly symbolic) will on the Israelis nor entice the Arabs to come back to the table, they just looked foolish.

    In sum it had no positive impact whatsoever on prospects for peace and why anyone in the administration thought it would is a complete mystery. They didn't think it through.

    So that's what this means: Don't pick public fights with Israel over nonsensical symbolic crap in the hope that this will somehow convince the Arabs that they can trust you. Both sides will simply conclude that you're an idiot.

  • Doug on January 27, 2012 9:21 PM:

    Until the governments and A MAJORITY OF THE CITIZENS of Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Iran agree that Israel has a right to exist in, at least, her pre-1967 borders, there won't be peace in the Middle East. Nor will the Palestians, aka Jordanians*, agree to any peace until the aforementioned happens.
    As for Romney's incredibly thoughtless and stupid remarks; what else can one expect from a Republican?

    *In the original League of Nations mandate, "Palestine" included what is now Israel AND Jordan. Until 1923 the entirety of "Palestine" was open to Jewish immigration. However, in that year, in order to placate the Hussein family, of "Lawrence of Arabia" fame, British Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill divided the area into what was known until May 1948 as "Palestine", today's Israel, and "Trans-Jordan", the present-day Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

  • bell bonnie on January 28, 2012 4:28 AM: