Historically, presidential candidates take overseas trips to prove their foreign policy gravitas. Mitt Romney, by scheduling a forthcoming trip to Israel, seems determined to do the opposite.
Think about it for a second. If you wanted to signal to Americans that you understand the big geopolitical challenges America faces in the coming years, you’d probably go to China, which is clearly America’s most important bilateral relationship. Maybe you’d add India or Japan to signal that you understand the emerging intra-Asian power game. If you wanted to send a message of global economic leadership, you might go to Germany, or even Spain, and give a speech about trans-Atlantic cooperation in the age of the Euro. If you decided to go to the Middle East, you’d likely pair a trip to Israel with a trip to, say, Tunisia, which would give you the chance to offer your perspective on the Arab spring. Or you might do something really wacky and go to Afghanistan, where American troops are currently at war.
Romney, at least according to the Times, isn’t doing any of that. He’s going to Israel and he’s attending the London Olympics. He’s doing the latter to remind people that he did a bang-up job running the Salt Lake City games. And he’s doing the former to remind people that he loves Jews.
Yes, it’s true that Barack Obama hasn’t visited the Jewish state as president, which is a blunder. (Though neither did George W. Bush in his first term. Ronald Reagan never went at all). But Romney’s claim that he’d “do the opposite” of Obama on Israel policy is laughable. With America deep in debt, Obama requested $3.1 billion in military assistance to Israel for the fiscal year 2013, compared to the $2.4 billion George W. Bush proposed. He’s been so effective in stymying the Palestinians at the United Nations that they now regard him with about as much affection as they regarded his predecessor. He’s orchestrated brutal sanctions against Iran and left the door wide-open to American military attack. He’s intervened personally to save Israeli diplomats endangered by a Cairo mob. Even when Obama has done things Benjamin Netanyahu doesn’t like, like proposing a settlement freeze or negotiations based upon the 1967 lines plus swaps, he’s largely backed down when Jerusalem made its displeasure felt.
So unless Romney wants to move the US embassy to Ulpana, there’s little he can say to distinguish his foreign policy views from those of his opponent. But that’s ok because Romney isn’t really trying to express his foreign policy views. To the contrary, he senses America’s isolationist mood and he’s catering to it. He’s going to Israel to show the voters (and donors) of Florida how much he likes Jews. He should save himself the airfare and get himself photographed eating a knish.