Walter Rodgers

GOP candidates show more loyalty to a foreign country (Israel) than their own

Republican presidential candidates do the United States a disservice in trying to bind an American president to the policies of Israel and its leader, Benjamin Netanyahu. Whatever happened to GOP foreign-policy realists, like Bush I?

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It is disconcerting to see the foreign-policy traps that Republican presidential candidates set for themselves, especially when it comes to Israel and the Middle East.

They do a disservice to the United States by trying to bind a sitting American president to the policies of a foreign government, specifically to the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

What do you call it when GOP presidential hopefuls like Rick Perry and Mitt Romney publicly denounce a duly elected American president so they can walk in lock step with the Israeli leader, whose policies are often contrary to US interests?

Norman Olsen, a former US diplomat in Israel who served in Republican and Democratic administrations, warns: “It is destructive to our relations with every other country in the world for Republican presidential candidates to demand Obama bend to Israel’s policies.”

Mr. Romney recently accused President Obama of having “thrown Israel under the bus,” in part for saying that Israel’s 1967 borders should serve as a rough guide for a Palestinian state. And yet, this administration’s policy is quite consistent with that of past Republican and Democratic presidents.

Mr. Netanyahu doesn’t make it easy for America. His idea of “fortress Israel” – isolated, bellicose, and overly muscular – is not a sustainable concept. Time and technology are eroding Israel’s qualitative military edge. Thus, the continuing Sisyphean US efforts at peacemaking, with Mr. Obama being only the latest president to try to broker a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conundrum.

By contrast, when we listen to leading GOP candidates, we hear no inclination to pursue regional peace, let alone negotiate as an honest broker. Republican contenders are obviously courting Jewish voters and donors to woo them from Democrats. Fair enough.

But in the process, Texas Governor Perry and former Massachusetts Governor Romney have been pandering to the most uncompromising right-wing factions in Israel who have deliberately sabotaged US presidential peacemaking, from Bill Clinton to Obama. Put simply, these GOP candidates seem to want to outsource US foreign policy to factions that are tone-deaf to peacemaking.

Washington’s and Jerusalem’s private views of the world are rarely identical. A decade ago, a senior Israeli military intelligence officer told me the West’s “war on terror” is just a euphemism for a global war between Islam and the West.

But the US is not at war with Muslims, and neither George W. Bush, with his close ties to the Saudis, nor Obama, with his outreach to Muslims, have ever shared that perspective.

Nonetheless, in the recent Florida Republican debate, Romney intoned there should not be “an inch of space” allowed between the US and its allies, referring to Israel. Romney and Perry need to recognize that Israel is Israel’s best friend; Israel is not America’s best friend. Recall the 1980s case of Jonathan Pollard and his criminal espionage on behalf of Israel within the Pentagon, or the 1967 brutal Israeli attack on the USS Liberty, in which 34 American sailors were killed.

More recently, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who served both Presidents Bush and Obama, suggested the US gets nothing in return from its alliance with Israel. Jeffrey Goldberg, writing for Bloomberg View and citing senior US officials, reported that Mr. Gates told Obama that Netanyahu is ungrateful. Gates also reportedly said Netanyahu endangers his country by refusing to grapple with Israel’s growing isolation and its demographic challenges by keeping control of the West Bank.

Perry may be proving his bona fides among Christian Zionists. But one has to ask if he really believes Jews will rally about him, what with his religious ties to those Evangelicals who pray for the Rapture – the return of the Messiah to Israel, which many interpret as subsuming Jews and turning them into Christians.

Perry had huevos rancheros on his face when he recently called on Palestinian leaders to recognize Israel’s right to exist, to renounce terrorism, and to negotiate face to face with Israelis. Is Perry unaware that Palestinians agreed to all that in the 1993 Oslo Accords? Yet without so much as a blush, Perry called Obama’s Middle East policies “naive, arrogant, misguided, and dangerous.”

US voters need to care about foreign policy, lest we find ourselves dragged into broader conflicts. With the exception of candidate Jon Huntsman Jr., the Republican presidential candidates are woefully out of their element in foreign policy. Mr. Huntsman, a former ambassador to China, knows the world well, but he stirs little enthusiasm among the GOP rank and file.

Whatever happened to GOP foreign-policy realists like former President George H.W. Bush and his Secretary of State James Baker? Both brilliantly responded to the fall of the Iron Curtain and engineered German reunification without war in Europe. Mr. Baker, perhaps the best secretary of State since George Marshall in the late 1940s, should be giving today’s crop of Republican presidential candidates tutorials, reminding them that their primary loyalty is to the United States, not a foreign country.

Walter Rodgers, a former senior international correspondent for CNN, writes a biweekly column.

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