"If I'm president of the United States," Mitt Romney declared during a recent GOP presidential debate, "My first foreign trip will be to Israel to show the world we care about that country and that region." As it turns out, Romney's pledge isn't just his latest transparent ploy to win over Jewish voters. Mitt's Israeli itinerary would give him a chance to personally thank the man to whom he has largely outsourced his Middle East policy. After all, from his short-lived Iran disinvestment campaign and calls for the indictment of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on war crimes charges to his ultra hard-line on Tehran's nuclear program and more, Mitt Romney for years has been regurgitating talking points from his friend and Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
The Romney-Netanyahu relationship dates back to the 1980's, when the two were colleagues at the Boston Consulting Group. But since Romney started his perpetual quest for the White House, he hasn't stopped mouthing Bibi's sound bites on borders and bombs, terrorism and Tehran.
It is Romney's role as Netahyahu's alter ego which explains Mitt's passing comment during the November 22nd CNN national security debate. When Romney said he wanted to "indict Ahmadinejad for violating the Geneva -- or the Genocide Convention," he was just awkwardly repeating an agenda Bibi has been pushing for years.
In January 2007, Romney joined Netanyahu among the speakers at the Herzliya Conference. In his speech, he took a very hard line towards the regime in Tehran, announcing:
Diplomatic isolation should also include an indictment of Ahmadinejad for incitement to genocide under the Geneva Convention, excuse me the Genocide Convention...
Article III of the treaty establishes 'public incitement to commit genocide' is a punishable crime. Every signatory to this treaty shares an obligation to enforce it. So do human rights groups that care about international humanitarian law...
Former U.S. Ambassador John Bolton has been a forceful advocate for this effort, and he's joined by Alan Dershowitz. If these two can agree, there must be something to it.
In the fall of 2007, Romney took his case to the United Nations. He not only demanded the General Secretary Ban-Ki-Moon "to revoke any invitation to President Ahmadinejad to address the General Assembly," but insisted that the UN prosecute the Iranian President for his 2006 boast that he would "wipe Israel off the map."
"If president Ahmadinejad sets foot in the United States, he should be handed an indictment under the Genocide Convention."
As Mother Jones laid out last week, there are a host of legal barriers to Romney's gambit. For starters, "U.S. policy has been to not honor the International Criminal Court; we are not a signatory to the Rome Treaty." And as MoJo reported:
It's widely interpreted that a statement supposedly egging on genocide is not legally considered a tool of genocide, unless it can be taken into evidence as proving direct intent and premeditation. Furthermore, it would be unprecedented to indict a foreign leader for a genocide that hasn't even taken place yet.
That may explain why Romney's nearly five-old year quest to prosecute the Iranian president had fizzled out, at least until last week. But that's more staying power than another of Mitt's Bibi-inspired crusades.
Consider the fate of Romney's 24 hour disinvestment campaign in early 2007, an effort cut short by revelations his own former employer had recent business dealings with Tehran. Romney followed the lead of his one-time BCG colleague and then-former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was touring the U.S. calling for pension funds to unload any holdings in companies doing business with Iran. Romney began his own grandstanding on Iranian disinvestment the next month by targeting the Democratic-controlled states of New York and Massachusetts. On February 22, Romney sent letters to New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, Senators Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton as well as state comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli urging a policy of "strategic disinvestment from companies linked to the Iranian regime." Romney's theatrics continued:
"With your new responsibilities overseeing one of America's largest pension funds, you have a unique opportunity to lead an effort to isolate Iran as it pursues nuclear armament. I request that you immediately launch a policy of strategic disinvestment from companies linked to the Iranian regime. Screening pension investments and divesting from companies providing financial support to the Iranian regime or linked to Iran's weapons programs and terrorist activities could have a powerful impact. New investments should be scrutinized as long as Iran's regime continues its current, dangerous course."
As it turns out, scrutiny begins at home. As the AP and others detailed, Romney's former employer and the company he founded had links to very recent Iranian business deals:
Romney joined Boston-based Bain & Co., a management consulting firm, in 1978 and worked there until 1984. He was CEO of Bain Capital, a venture capital firm, from 1984 to 1999, despite a two-year return as Bain & Co.'s chief executive officer from 1991 to 1992.
Bain & Co. Italy, described in company literature as "the Italian branch of Bain & Co.," received a $2.3 million contract from the National Iranian Oil Co., in September 2004. Its task was to develop a master plan so NIOC -- the state oil company of Iran -- could become one of the world's top oil companies, according to Iranian and U.S. news accounts of the deal.
Bain Capital, the venture capital firm that Romney started and made him a multimillionaire, teamed up with the Haier Group, a Chinese appliance maker that has a factory in Iran, in an unsuccessful 2005 buyout effort.
Caught flat-footed by his hypocrisy that took the AP less than a day to uncover, Romney feebly responded:
"This is something for now-forward. I wouldn't begin to say that people who, in the past, have been doing business with Iran, are subject to the same scrutiny as that which is going on from a prospective basis."
On Middle East matters large and small, Mitt Romney has time and again shown there is no such thing as American national interest, only Israeli national interest. Or more accurately, Benjamin Netanyahu's version of it. As Mitt explained in an interview with the Bibi-friendly Israel Hayom last month, President Romney would follow Israel's lead:
The actions that I will take will be actions recommended and supported by Israeli leaders. I don't seek to take actions independent of what our allies think is best, and if Israel's leaders thought that a move of that nature [the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem] would be helpful to their efforts, then that's something I'll be inclined to do. But again, that's a decision which I would look to the Israeli leadership to help guide. I don't think America should play the role of the leader of the peace process, instead we should stand by our ally. Again, my inclination is to follow the guidance of our ally Israel, as to where our facilities and embassies would exist.
While he has repeatedly attacked the President of the United States for "throwing Israel under the bus," Romney told PBS' Judy Woodruff in July he would never publicly criticize Israeli leaders about West Bank settlements - or anything else:
What I believe is that when you have an ally that shares your values, as does Israel, that if you disagree with them, you do so in private. You don't want to in any way encourage the adversaries of your ally to assume that perhaps they can get a better deal by going around Israel and negotiating with you directly. And so I think it is a mistake on the part of the president, as he did at - in his first address at the United Nations, to criticize Israel for building settlements and not mentioning that Hamas has launched thousands of rockets into Israel...
Again, I would tell you that the role of a person running for president or a person who is president, in my view, is to stand by our ally and if we disagree do so in private. If I were to tell you that I disagreed I'd violate my own rule. And in this - in this case I believe that my opinions on Israel's posture in negotiating with the Palestinians would be something I would keep to myself and to Bibi Netanyahu and leaders of the minority, Tzipi Livni, and others.
That's something I would not share with the public.
In that case, Romney should have checked with Tzipi Livni first. While Prime Minister Netanyahu was in the United States lecturing President Obama in Congress and to his face, the opposition leader had a different view about who was throwing who under the bus:
Tzipi Livni, leader of Israel's opposition Kadima party, also backed Mr Obama's two-state solution and accused Mr Netanyahu of putting Israel at risk in order to save his right-wing coalition.
"The prime minister has violated relations between Israel and the United States," she said, speaking after Mr Obama's speech but before the Oval Office meeting. "He has endangered the security of Israel and its power of deterrence."
And when it comes to the security of Israel, Netanyahu's own defense minister Ehud Barak made clear, "I don't think that anyone can raise any question mark about the devotion of this president to the security of Israel."
But on the subject of Iran, Mitt Romney, Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak are on the same page. For weeks, stories have been suggesting that Netanyahu and Barak are pushing for Israeli strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities. But while opposition within the Israeli Knesset and cabinet (most notably from the head of the Mossad) remains strong, Bibi Netanyahu can count on President Romney's support.
As for Romney, he outlined his own plan in a Wall Street Journal op-ed ("I Won't Let Iran Get Nukes") two weeks ago:
Si vis pacem, para bellum. That is a Latin phrase, but the ayatollahs will have no trouble understanding its meaning from a Romney administration: If you want peace, prepare for war...Only when the ayatollahs no longer have doubts about America's resolve will they abandon their nuclear ambitions.
After his five year quest for the White House, Americans can have no doubt about Mitt Romney's ambitions. Hoping to cement his position for the New Hampshire primary, Romney trumpeted his endorsement by first term Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte. Returning the favor, Romney then suggested Ayotte could be his running mate.
In one sense, there's no room left on the Romney ticket. When it comes to Israel and the Middle East, Benjamin Netanyahu has been Romney's running mate for years.