Over the weekend, the New York Times published a glowing story of the 36-year relationship between GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney and his old Boston Consulting Group colleague turned two-time Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. But if theirs is a "mandatory friendship" which conveniently helps Romney both woo the GOP's evangelical base and bludgeon President Obama, it also could jeopardize the foreign policy and national security interests of the United States. After all, when Mitt Romney announces "we will not have an inch of difference between ourselves and our ally Israel," he really means Bibi Netanyahu and his right-wing Likud coalition. And for President Romney's America, that could make conflict with Iran much more likely and an Israeli peace agreement with the Palestinians virtually impossible.
Famously reticent to talk to the press, Mitt Romney was only too happy to highlight his close friendship with the Israeli Prime Minister. "We can almost speak in shorthand," Romney told the Times, adding, "We share common experiences and have a perspective and underpinning which is similar." That shared experience began in 1976 in the offices of the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), where the two men were colleagues right out of graduate school:
That shared experience decades ago led to a warm friendship, little known to outsiders, that is now rich with political intrigue. Mr. Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, is making the case for military action against Iran as Mr. Romney, the likely Republican presidential nominee, is attacking the Obama administration for not supporting Mr. Netanyahu more robustly.As the record shows, the exchange has largely been a one-sided affair.
The relationship between Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Romney -- nurtured over meals in Boston, New York and Jerusalem, strengthened by a network of mutual friends and heightened by their conservative ideologies -- has resulted in an unusually frank exchange of advice and insights on topics like politics, economics and the Middle East.
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.
In February'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."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.As for the ambitions of the Palestinian people for a state of their own - a U.S. foreign policy objective shared by the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations - Mitt Romney insists that is Bibi's call alone. As Romney put it in a January 26 Republican debate:
There are some people who say, should we have a two-state solution? And the Israelis would be happy to have a two-state solution. It's the Palestinians who don't want a two-state solution. They want to eliminate the state of Israel.Unfortunately, Benjamin Netanyahu's premiership makes peace in the Middle East virtually impossible. Netanyahu, after all, opposed the 1993 Oslo Accords, which he said were "against my principles and my conscience" and were based upon "an enormous lie." Bibi also fought against the Ehud Barak's proposals to Yassir Arafat during the Clinton administration and refused to support the 2008 offer his predecessor Ehud Olmert made to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Even Netanyahu's much-hyped 2009 Bar-Ilan speech represented little movement forward towards a two-state solution he has long opposed:
And I believe America must say -- and 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.
Mr. Netanyahu made no mention of existing frameworks for negotiations, like the American-backed 2003 peace plan known as the road map.As Bibi's father Benzion described it, "He doesn't support [a Palestinian state]. He supports the sorts of conditions they [the Palestinians] will never accept."
He did not address the geographical area a Palestinian state might cover, and he said that the Palestinian refugee problem must be resolved outside Israel's borders, negating the Palestinian demand for a right of return for refugees of the 1948 war and for their millions of descendants.
He insisted that Jerusalem remain united as the Israeli capital. The Palestinians demand the eastern part of the city as a future capital.
Of course, Mitt Romney is just fine with them.
As the New York Times explained, "The ties between Mr. Romney and Mr. Netanyahu stand out because there is little precedent for two politicians of their stature to have such a history together that predates their entry into government." But as Martin Indyk, former U.S. ambassador to Israel in the Clinton administration pointed out, whether intentionally or not, Mitt Romney's statements about his BFF Bibi seem to imply that he would "subcontract Middle East policy to Israel." And, Indyk added, "That, of course, would be inappropriate."
And, worse still for American national interests, counterproductive.