Israel Can’t Afford Reagan 2.0 in Romney

During these perilous times, a strong U.S.-Israel relationship is more important than ever. Mitt Romney's admiration for the Reagan and Bush administrations, which consistently gave Israel slaps in the face, is a warning sign of his potential policies towards Israel if elected.

David A Harris
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David A Harris

We hear it from Republican candidates all the time – the pledge to be the next Ronald Reagan, to return to the conservative principles and policies of Republican presidents of the past.

Mitt Romney is no different. His proposals look like carbon copies of Republicans’ greatest hits: tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, weakened regulations that ensure public safety, an end to Medicare as we know it, and an embrace of the same failed ideas that undermined our middle class and left our economy in tatters.

Governor Romney says he’ll do all of this and more, and we should take him at his word. Yet, when it comes to Israel, is following the path of Republican predecessors really in the best interest of the Jewish state?

Given Romney’s admiration for former U.S. presidents Reagan and Bush, a look at their records reveal some clues to how Romney might approach the U.S.-Israel relationship. The results do not bode well for Israel.

Think back to the days of President Reagan. To protest Israeli actions of which he didn’t approve, Reagan suspended a U.S.-Israel strategic cooperation agreement – in what the conservative commentator William Safire has called “the most stinging slap in the face administered to any US ally in recent history.” The Reagan Administration sold sophisticated weaponry to Saudi Arabia – AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System) surveillance planes – while blocking the delivery of F-16s to Israel. And it supported anti-Israel resolutions at the UN, while condemning Israel’s attack on the Iraqi nuclear reactor.

Time after time, Reagan publicly humiliated the United States' best friend in the Middle East. Is Mitt Romney going to follow suit?

Now, think back to President George W. Bush. His administration allowed Israel’s qualitative military edge to erode and deteriorate, violating security agreements with Israel. It rescinded nearly $300 million in loan guarantees to our closest Middle East ally as punishment for construction activities in the West Bank. The Bush Administration endorsed Hamas’ participation in Palestinian elections over Israeli objections.

When Bush took office, Iran’s nuclear weapons program was virtually non-existent. By the time he left, Iran had thousands of centrifuges spinning and its power in the region was on the rise. Yet, when Israel requested bunker-busting bombs for potential use against the Iranian nuclear threat, Bush said no. Will Mitt Romney follow in his footsteps?

With this history, a pro-Israel voter would think Mitt Romney would want to “do the opposite” of these Republican presidents and not model his proposals after their actions. But instead, he claims he’ll reverse course from U.S. President Barack Obama’s policies, which leads to the question: why?

Obama has restored Israel’s qualitative military edge with record levels of aid and the deepest security cooperation in the history of our alliance. He has repeatedly defended Israel at the UN, vetoing anti-Israel resolutions, denouncing the Goldstone Report, and boycotting the anti-Semitic Durban conference. He has said that Israel cannot be expected to negotiate with any entity dedicated to its destruction and that Israel must be able to defend itself, by itself, from any threat.

To combat the rise of a nuclear Iran, the president imposed the most crippling sanctions regime in history – and the sanctions are biting. He secretly sold bunker-busting bombs to Israel to ensure it had the tools necessary to defend against the Iranian threat. He has stated that America will take no options off the table to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran – and, as we know, this president doesn’t bluff.

Elections are about choices, and this year is no different. In November, voters must choose between a candidate who seeks to follow the path of Reagan and Bush or a president who backs his words with actions and stands up for Israel’s security through thick and thin.

Many of Romney’s advisors were part of the Reagan and Bush Administrations, including Dan Senor, Tevi Troy, Mary Beth Long, and John Lehman – among many others. Will they steer Romney in the same direction, such as rejecting Israel’s request for bunker-busting bombs for use against Iran’s nuclear weapons program?

During these perilous times, a strong U.S.-Israel relationship is more important than ever. When it comes to Bush’s freezing of loan guarantees or Reagan’s blocking of arms sales to Israel, we can’t afford for the next president to follow in their footsteps.

David A. Harris is the President and CEO of the National Jewish Democratic Council.

Mitt Romney. His foreign policy pronouncements and advisory team indicate that his campaign might reprise the hawkish and often unilateral foreign policy prescriptions that guided Reagan and Bush.Credit: AP