Both US presidential contenders, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney pledged to stand with Israel if attacked in their foreign policy debate in Boca Raton, Florida Monday, Oct. 22. But neither replied directly to the question put by moderator Bob Scheiffer: which of them would offer a formal declaration as president to treat an attack on Israel as though it was an attack on America, especially in relation to a nuclear Iran?
Romney said: "if Israel is attacked, we will have their back." He added he would stop a nuclear-capable – not just a nuclear – Iran. Both candidates agreed that military action was a last resort against Iran after all others had been exhausted. Obama said: “I will stand with Israel if they are attacked" and will not let Iran get a nuclear weapon, but added that Romney seems willing to take "premature military action." He cited unprecedented military and intelligence cooperation between his administration and Israel, and pledged an “unbreakable bond” with America’s true ally.
debkafile: The reservations on the parts of both candidates reflect the erosion of Israel’s strategic position in the four years of the Obama presidency compared with Iran’s rising clout in the region.
When the moderator asked how they would react to a telephone call from the Israeli prime minister announcing that bombers were on the way to attack Iran, Romney replied that his relations with Israel would be such that that phone call would not be made. Obama did not reply.
While Romney said tough sanctions against Iran should have come earlier, Obama stressed that his first priority had been to round up a world coalition to make them effective. Romney wanted action against Iran to include an economic boycott and isolation, tighter sanctions and getting Ahmadinejad indicted before the international court for promoting genocide by saying Israel should be wiped off the map.
Romney attacked the president’s record by saying, “We’re four years closer to a nuclear Iran,” and have seen a dramatic reversal of the Arab Spring, with the Middle East in the grip of violent turbulence and extremism and al Qaeda is nowhere near on the run. Iran sees weakness where it expected strength. He charged Obama was silent when students in Tehran demonstrated for democracy. But he refrained from taking on Obama directly over his response to the attack which killed the US ambassador in Benghazi.
Reverting to relations with Israel, Romney called the tension between the US and Israel, our most important Middle East ally, “very unfortunate.” He pointed out that when Obama went to the Middle East, he traveled to Cairo and skipped Israel, which he has never visited as president. Obama countered that as a candidate he did go to Israel and visited Yad Vashem and the towns blasted by Hamas rockets rather then attending fundraisers.
Romney praised Mr. Obama for ordering the killing of Osama bin Laden but added, "We can't kill our way out of this mess."
He hammered the point throughout that the president had failed to show the world strong American leadership. Obama countered by accusing his rival of “wrong and reckless” proposals and “being all over the map” in his judgments between the start of his campaign and now.
When asked to name the greatest security threat to the United States today, Obama replied “terrorism;” Romney, “nuclear Iran.”
For the American voter, 15 days before the presidential election, foreign policy is of secondary interest compared with the economy and jobs.