GOP White House hopeful Mitt Romney and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu go way back. Their friendship dates back to the 1980's when, as Governor Romney pointed out during a December GOP debate, "We worked together at Boston Consulting Group." And from his aborted campaign for state pension fund disinvestment from companies doing business with Iran and his call for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to be indicted on war crimes charges to his five year push for striking Tehran's nuclear facilities, Romney has done Bibi's bidding ever since.
But now with Mitt struggling to secure the GOP nomination and lagging President Obama in the polls, Benjamin Netanyahu is about to return the favor. Because when Bibi comes to Washington next week, virtually the entire Republican Party and some Democrats in Congress will join Mitt's BFF in pressing President Obama to attack Iran.
For months, American and Israeli leaders have engaged in a high-stakes kabuki dance over the confrontation with Iran. Hoping to forestall a unilateral Israeli strike against Tehran's nuclear facilities, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and intelligence director James Clapper warned of the retaliatory threats to U.S. interests, economy and even the homeland. Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey declared an attack by his overstretched military would not be "prudent" and reiterated for Congress today that Tehran is a "rational actor."
For their part, Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak downplay the risks of Iranian retaliation from an Israeli preemptive strike. The stakes, they along with many of their Likud allies in the Unites States, are nothing less than preventing a second Holocaust. More as a means of turning the screws on the Obama administration than providing the U.S. with plausible deniability, Netanyahu's government has insisted for months that it will not provide the U.S. with advance warning of an Israeli attack. And with the articles in the New York Times and the Washington Post suggesting that only the U.S. has the capability to destroy the Iranian nuclear program once its enters the supposed "zone of immunity," the political pressure on President Obama to bless a strike by Israel now and promise an American attack later if necessary, is growing rapidly.
Next week, those simmering tensions will be aired publicly. As Time explained, President Obama will address America Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on Sunday before meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu at the White House the next day:
Top of the agenda on both occasions is Iran, which has also been chosen by Republicans as the Number 1 foreign policy issue of the presidential race. And publicly aired differences in the assessment of, and strategies for dealing with, Iran's nuclear program have become a source of friction between the Administration and the Israelis. Netanyahu's leverage in the debate is boosted not only by Israel's threat to take unilateral military action if it deems Washington's efforts to restrain Iran insufficient, but also by Obama's need to remain onside with the flagship Israel lobbying organization.CBS reported Thursday that "Netanyahu wants Obama to state unequivocally that the United States is preparing for a military operation in the event that Iran crosses certain 'red lines.'" Just in case Obama needs extra persuading, the Likud Prime Minister is enlisting the help of his Republican allies to turn up the heat:
Netanyahu and his advisers briefed a group of senators and senior congressmen during the past two weeks on the Iranian issue, and asked them to pressure Obama on the matter. Last week, Netanyahu met a group of five senior senators over lunch, headed by Sen. John McCain, who ran four years ago against Obama for president. Netanyahu reportedly told the senators he was not interfering in U.S. politics and expected U.S. officials not to interfere in Israeli politics either.When John McCain emerged from that meeting with Netanyahu to declare, "There should be no daylight between America and Israel in our assessment of the [Iranian] threat...unfortunately there clearly is some," it was music to Mitt Romney's ears. And not just because McCain is one of Mitt's highest-profile endorsers. As it turns out Romney has been the mouthpiece for his buddy Bibi's hard line message for years.
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.And during his exchange with Newt Gingrich during a December Republican debate, Romney left no doubt which Israeli leader he was talking about:
"I've also known Bibi Netanyahu for a long time. We worked together at Boston Consulting Group. And the last thing Bibi Netanyahu needs to have is not just a person who's an historian, but somebody who is also running for president of the United States, stand up and say things that create extraordinary tumult in his neighborhood...Before I made a statement of that nature, I'd get on the phone to my friend Bibi Netanyahu and say, 'Would it help if I said this? What would you like me to do?'"As it turns out, that's exactly what Mitt Romney has been doing since before his first run for President of the United States.
Consider 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. 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."Romney's role as Netanyahu's water carrier also 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. There, he first announced his support for Netanyahu's approach. Then 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 detailed last year, 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 has fizzled out. Of course, on the issue that matters most - the Iranian nuclear program - Benjamin Netanyahu and Mitt Romney have always seen eye to eye.
As it turns out, many of Romney's advisers not only helped bring you the war in Iraq, but have for months been advocating an American attack on Iran "before it's too late." In 2007 Romney declared he favored all options "from blockade to bombardment" and announced that "if for some reasons [the Iranians] continue down their course of folly toward nuclear ambition, then I would take military action if that's available to us." And in a Wall Street Journal op-ed in November titled, "I Won't Let Iran Get Nukes," Romney talked tough in two languages:
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.In last week's Arizona GOP debate, Mitt Romney repeated a pledge certain to please Benjamin Netanyahu:
"We must not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon. If they do the world changes, America will be at risk and someday nuclear weaponry will be used. If I'm president that will not happen. If we reelect Barack Obama it will happen."In a few days, Romney's good friend Bibi Netanyahu will be in Washington to help make sure the reelection of Barack Obama doesn't happen.