Romney, the Best U.S. President for Israel?

Imagine the benefits for both countries if America had a president who was on the same page politically and personality-wise as the prime minister of Israel.

Seth Lipsky
Seth Lipsky
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Former U.S. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney in Jerusalem, July 2012.
Former U.S. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney in Jerusalem, July 2012.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Seth Lipsky
Seth Lipsky

Growing speculation that Mitt Romney could yet emerge as the Republican nominee for U.S. president in 2016 invites this question: What would things be like were America to have a president who was on the same page politically as the prime minister of Israel? That’s the way I put the question in April of 2012, when the former governor of Massachusetts was in the thick of the primary season for the 2012 election.

It’s the question that leaps to mind with such reports as the one the other day in the New York Post that quoted one top political strategist, Scott Reed of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, as saying, “Romney can’t be dismissed as the guy who lost last time. You watch him on TV these days, and he’s a new guy with total command of the issues and a real presence. He could throw an organization together and get the money.”

It’s not my aim here to endorse Romney or to suggest that the other GOP candidates would have a hard time getting in synch with Israel. There are a lot of good candidates in the Republican ranks, including, I’ve been arguing, the libertarian Rand Paul. The question that nags at me came into focus in the last election, when the New York Times issued a dispatch on the friendship that developed in the late 1970s between Romney and a young Israeli named Benjamin Netanyahu.

At the time both of them were working for the Boston Consulting Group, where they were absorbing what the Times’ Michael Barbaro characterized as “the same profoundly analytical view of the world.” That was before Washington-Jerusalem relations entered their rocky years, starting at Camp David with President Carter pressuring Menachem Begin to be more forthcoming with the Arabs than he might have (or, I would argue, should have) been.

Things went better under President Reagan. They tensed again under President George H.W. Bush, who complained of being “one lonely little guy” in the face of lobbyists pressing for American loan guarantees for Israeli housing. They turned even worse during the second term of President Clinton, whose state secretary, Madeleine Albright, made it clear that she couldn’t stand Netanyahu. Things improved under President George W. Bush.

As governor of Texas, “W” had been hosted in Israel by Ariel Sharon, who would accede to Israel’s premiership the same year that Bush acceded to the White House. The outbreak of war with Al-Qaida put our common destiny into ever sharper relief. One would have to go back to President Truman to find more amicable patch in American-Israel relations. Our governments were in synch on not just foreign policy but the economic reforms being carried out at the Finance Ministry by Netanyahu.

It would be inaccurate to suggest that relations between America and Israel are simply a matter of personalities. But the clash of personalities and ideologies looms ever greater in an era in which the American president is publicly proclaiming that he lacks a strategy for dealing with the advance of the of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Whatever else one can say about Mitt Romney, he doesn’t lack for a strategy.

During the last campaign he outlined it in a speech at one of America’s senior military academies, Virginia Military Institute. He warned that Obama had put “daylight” between America and Israel. His main point, though, was to warn we had yet to win the war and had even been, during Obama’s first term, losing ground. He focused on the president’s failure to act in Syria and his failure, as I put it at the time, to secure a status of forces agreement in Iraq.

How prescient those points seem today, with the advance of ISIS and America rushing specialized military personnel back into Iraq. One thing that Romney stressed is that he would halt evisceration of the Pentagon budget. He promised to “restore the Navy to the size needed to fulfill our missions.” He vowed to build 15 ships a year, including three submarines, a vow that is sounding smarter by the week as Communist China maneuvers in the Asian seas and conducts vast war games with the Russ regime.

Romney’s VMI strategy merged into a 2012 Republican platform that included a declared end to the weak dollar policy being pursued by President Obama (as it was, to similar disastrous effect, by President Carter). The platform comprehended that economic success undergirds strategic success. Romney failed to use the plank of monetary reform his party built for him, but it will be there again in 2016, and ever more needed. He’s not the only candidate, but he already has a comprehensive strategy, one that fits well with Israel and looks better as Obama’s presidency goes into its lame duck years.

Seth Lipsky is editor of The New York Sun. He was a foreign editor and a member of the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal, founding editor of The Forward and editor from 1990 to 2000.

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