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+972 bloggers discuss the U.S. foreign policy debate

U.S. President Barack Obama and Republican contender Mitt Romney faced off in Boca Raton, Florida in the third and final debate on Monday. The debate focused on foreign policy, with a major emphasis on the Middle East. +972 bloggers discuss the debate, the candidates, and their positions on the region.

When Mitt Romney accused Obama of not having visited Israel, “America’s great ally,” during his presidency, the president shot back,

“I went to Israel as a candidate, I didn’t take donors, I didn’t attend fundraisers, I went to Yad Vashem, the — the Holocaust museum there, to remind myself the — the nature of evil and why our bond with Israel will be unbreakable.”(Click here to watch the video clip).

On Twitter, Rabbi Jason Miller (@RabbiJason) quipped:

https://twitter.com/RabbiJason/status/260562612037767168

Context: Romney is a practicing Mormon; according to his faith, he believes one can baptize a person into Mormonism after his / her death. During the previous presidential debate, Romney said that in his quest for equal opportunity he had sought qualified women for cabinet jobs when he was governor of Massachusetts, and that in response several organizations had brought him “binders of women” applicants. The awkward sentence went viral, spawning dozens of memes.

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Obama missed the mark when he attacked Romney for pointing to Russia as the greatest geopolitical threat to the U.S. – instead of Al-Qaida. While I understand Obama was trying to establish himself as tough on terrorism and discredit Romney’s approach as a Reaganesque one stuck in the Cold War era, harping on Romney’s statement about Russia does not exhibit an accurate grasp on the international dynamics affecting American foreign policy in the Middle East.

The Cold War may be long over, but Russia is still as tyrannical as ever, both domestically and internationally. It not only lacks free and fair elections and represses its own people, but is supportive of the Assad regime in Syria and in cahoots with Iran to serve its own interests.

While threatening Russia with nuclear missiles as America did in the 1950′s under JFK is probably not the solution, neither is diminishing Russia’s important role in the geopolitical dynamics affecting American interests and global politics. On this note, it appears Obama let his desire to appear hawkish against Romney get the best of him.  As pointed out in a NYTimes article this morning, it almost appeared as if the candidates reversed roles, with Romney stressing that “we can’t kill our way out of this mess” while Obama stressed the importance of remembering the evil of the Holocaust and the  unbreakable “bond with Israel.”

As I have argued here several times in the past, Obama continues to show himself to be the most “pro-Israel” president Israel has seen, and indeed as Noam Sheizaf pointed out, he did not bother to mention the P word once throughout the debate.

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The only mention of the Palestinians in the debate comes from Romney:

“We haven’t done that yet. We talk a lot about these things, but you look at the — the record. You look at the record of the last four years and say, is Iran closer to a bomb? Yes. Is the Middle East in tumult? Yes. Is — is al-Qaida on the run, on its heels? No. Is — are Israel and the Palestinians closer to — to reaching a peace agreement? No, they haven’t had talks in two years. We have not seen the progress we need to have, and I’m convinced that with strong leadership and an effort to build a strategy based upon helping these nations reject extremism, we can see the kind of peace and prosperity the world demands.” 

Full transcript of the debate here.

In a way, you might argue that Romney got it right here. It’s clear that Obama avoided the Israeli/Palestinian conflict because his policy was such a mess, flip-flopping from one position to the other, starting from embracing the Palestinian demand for a state and then ending up blocking the symbolic move at the U.N. and even vetoing a resolution on the settlements which was drafted in the language of previous State Department declarations. The problem is that where Obama failed miserably, Romney won’t even try.

 

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The social media post mortem of the presidential debate is full of interesting stuff (not all of it sane, as in the case of Ann Coulter). Via ThinkProgress, here’s the CNN interview in which Ehud Barak tells Wolf Blitzer that the Obama administration has done more for Israeli security than any previous U.S. government.

 

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One could be forgiven for believing the candidates are unaware of the Palestinians’ existence. In the course of a 90-minute debates they mentioned Israel 22 times – but did not even say the word “Palestinians.”

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Obama: I went to Sderot in southern Israel where missiles have rained down from Hamas and I thought about my children. Mr. Obama did you go to Gaza and see the rockets rain down on Palestinian children and think of your two daughters? The double standards are palpable.

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It’s really embarrassing to watch Obama and Romney trip over one another in their rush to declare love for Israel. But also true, as the New York Times’s Jodi Kantor (@jodikantor) tweeted, that both presidential candidates are reaching out to their elderly Florida Jewish audience. “Netanyahu, Yad Vashem: Ladies and gentlemen, we are in Boca, and Florida is up for grabs.”

Meanwhile, while the two men reach out to show Israel the love, agree that sanctions on Iran are great and drones are good policy (never mind that they kill civilians; let’s not mention that). But so far we have not heard a word about the Palestinians. Not. A. Word.

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What does it mean when Romney says, “we have Israel’s back culturally”? Someone please explain this to me because I am more than confused by that statement. Or better yet, “Ahmadenijad should be indicted” for genocide because of his statements. Now, that would be the ultimate preemptive strike!

 

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It’s funny. Both candidates starting with Romney have turned a debate on foreign policy into a debate on domestic policy, especially the economy and education. True these issues affect our foreign policy indirectly, but its pretty comical nonetheless. Maybe its indicative of the fact that Romney has very little foreign policy experience and feels more comfortable talking about domestic issues.

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Israel has come up in the debate at least five times in the first 30 minutes on issues that had very little to do with the country. Almost every topic from Syria to the Arab Spring to what America needs to do with regards to foreign policy has been tied back to Israel. It remains the buzzword and domestic issue that it has for at least a generation.

Correspondingly, an hour in the Palestinians have not been mentioned once…

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I know that the structure of these debates does not allow for a lot of detail but Romney sounds very ambitious in his foreign policy to the point of fantasy. Like everything he says I find myself asking, how are you planning on getting this done? He also described the Arab Spring as “the rising tide of chaos,” a term I find disconcerting. He says his foreign policy in the region will be helping the Middle East push back against extremism.

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  • COMMENTS

    1. Richard Witty

      Israeli elections are the important thing to focus on, right now.

      Obama is savvy and subtle.

      If anything, his policies should weaken Netanyahu in the election, as remote as it seems right now that he will be removed.

      The logic by which likud gets elected is where threat on Israelis is the predominant issue to motivate voters. In the environment of threat, the big stick, the “backbone” is perceived as necessary if not desirable.

      When Israel’s safety is confident, other issues and other possibilities may be considered.

      Even peace, even improvement in Palestinians lives, even justice for Palestinian grievances.

      Even (“God forbid”) social equality in Israel.

      Many on the left regard the PA as complicit, suppressive. In contrast, the PA is undertaking the work that removes the obstacles to peace, so that the motives of likud can be laid bare.

      If anything, as I’ve said for it seems like centuries now, the actions and then supportive statements of solidarity elect likud.

      Hamas shelling southern Israel in 2008 elected likud.

      Lets elect someone else.

      Obama knows of Palestinian experience and does not dismiss it personally. The Obama administration knows of Palestinian experience and does not dismiss it.

      Palestinians won’t be forgotten if there is room to remember them. That is what Obama is working.

      Another intifada elects likud.

      The world will ultimately accept Israel annexing the settlement areas unilaterally, and East Jerusalem if likud is elected for another decade.

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