The GOP Doesn't Have a Foreign Policy -- They're Just Against Whatever Obama is For





4-9-12

Steve Hochstadt is a professor of history at Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois. His books include "Sources of the Holocaust" (2004) and "Exodus to Shanghai: Stories of Escape from the Third Reich" (2012).

It would be difficult to find a time in our recent history when the foreign policy of a presidential administration was as unsuccessful as under George W. Bush. Not just one, but two wars started and carried out for years without any success, Osama bin Laden still hiding after years of fruitless search (though under Bush's successor bin Laden is now hiding six miles under the ocean with a hole in his head), a worsening situation in the Middle East, and anti-American feeling growing all over the world.

Not one mission was accomplished.

It’s not surprising that Republicans since 2008 have been scrambling to figure out what they should advocate. The ideas that the Republican presidential candidates have proposed over the past year demonstrate the bankruptcy of their foreign policy thinking. These problems are exemplified by expressions of the candidates’ policy towards Israel.

Obama called on Israel to stop building settlements in the West Bank and to use the 1967 borders as a starting point for negotiations with the Palestinians. This has been the position taken by every president since Nixon.

The Republican candidates, for all of their criticism of each other, have spoken with one voice about their Middle East policy. Michele Bachmann said last November, “President Obama hasn’t been willing to stand with Israel. Israel looks at President Obama, and they do not see a friend.” In February, she called Obama “the most dangerous president” when it comes to Middle East policy.

Rick Perry said in September that “the Obama policy in the Middle East” is “naive and arrogant, misguided and dangerous.”

Mitt Romney, the front-runner, said last May, “President Obama has thrown Israel under the bus. He has disrespected Israel and undermined its ability to negotiate peace.” Romney liked that image, and he's gone back to the well. In June, in an interview with Sean Hannity, Romney said, “Obama threw Israel under the bus. You stand by your allies, you don't dictate to them.” In an interview in October: “My view is that he threw Israel under the bus by laying out his view of the policies he thought Israel should adopt in the peace process. I believe that the role of an ally is to stand behind your friends and let them speak for themselves, rather than be spoken for by the United States of America.”

Herman Cain could do no better than use Romney’s words. When he was briefly the front-runner in October, Cain said that the President “threw Israel under the bus.” And Rick Santorum last week also played copycat: “We're throwing Israel under the bus, because we know we're going to be dependent upon OPEC. Folks, the president of the United States is selling the economic security of the United States down the river right now. This is a president who is not standing by our allies.” He is “trying to find a way to allow Iran to get this nuclear weapon.”

Jews have always been concerned with the word, spoken and written. Jews are also very attuned to metaphorical language about killing. (Buses, by the way, are a much more common method of transportation in Israel. That is why there have been so many suicide bombing attacks on buses.) So using the metaphor of murder, throwing someone under a bus, means a lot to Jews, here and in Israel. It means that Romney and his fellow Republican leaders think that President Obama is a deadly enemy of Israel and thus of Jews.

I don’t remember any time in my life when seemingly all of the official representatives of one party have called the president an enemy of Israel. U.S. policy towards Israel has often shifted from one critical moment to the next, but it has always been bipartisan and supported across the political spectrum.

Now the Republican Party says something different to Israel and its American supporters: Obama is your enemy. Oppose him with everything you’ve got. Make no deals with him, because he will betray you. Wait for us, until November, or, if we lose, wait for us another four years before you trust the U.S. government.

I’m sorry. I have been saying I was writing about foreign policy, but I wasn’t. There is no foreign policy here, except “whatever Obama has done is wrong.” Every foreign policy act in Obama’s three years, a time of continual and unpredictable Middle East crisis, has received the same Republican treatment, from Obama’s comments about Israeli settlements, to his decisions about what to do in Libya, to his gradual withdrawal from the wars which were started the last time a Republican was president.

But don't just take my word for it -- here's what a conservative Israeli leader thinks. After President Obama sided with Israel in opposing the Palestinian Authority’s attempt to get a seat at the UN, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “I want to thank you, Mr. President, for standing with Israel and supporting peace through direct negotiations.”

These would-be commanders-in-chief act like they don’t know how much America is weakened by their political posturing. They don’t seem to care that if they win, they will be trusted less to know what they’re talking about.

But these guys aren't talking to Jews. They're talking about Israel to their base, where Jews are few and far between. Israel for them is just another weapon in their war against Obama. And everyone in Jerusalem knows it.


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