I didn’t think it possible to be more clueless about foreign policy than George W. Bush, but Mitt Romney has forced me to revise that opinion. In Bush’s case, his arrogance — and deference to Dick Cheney’s neocon conversion — was always at least somewhat tempered by a lingering respect for his father, and perhaps too by a kind of WASPy preppy cockiness. Rhetorically, at least, there were limits to Bush’s deference to Israel. He bought hook, line, and sinker the neoconservative rhetoric about expanding democracy through aggressive war, but he at least he claimed to know, even if he failed to act or follow through on the issue, that the Palestinians deserved self-determination.
When Bush made his Road Map speech in June of 2002, there was speculation that it was in partial payment to Tony Blair, providing the latter with political cover he needed for supporting the Iraq War. In any case, the speech contains these line in its opening:
It is untenable for Israeli citizens to live in terror. It is untenable for Palestinians to live in squalor and occupation. And the current situation offers no prospect that life will improve. Israeli citizens will continue to be victimized by terrorists, and so Israel will continue to defend herself.
and later included this:
I can understand the deep anger and despair of the Palestinian people. For decades you’ve been treated as pawns in the Middle East conflict. Your interests have been held hostage to a comprehensive peace agreement that never seems to come, as your lives get worse year by year. You deserve democracy and the rule of law. You deserve an open society and a thriving economy. You deserve a life of hope for your children. An end to occupation and a peaceful democratic Palestinian state may seem distant, but America and our partners throughout the world stand ready to help, help you make them possible as soon as possible.
Of course, nothing came of it. A moderate Palestinian government never found an Israeli peace partner, and in 2006 an impatient population elected Hamas. On the ground, Israel has continued a slow-motion ethnic-cleansing operation in Jerusalem and on the West Bank, expelling Palestinians from their homes and even going so far as to destroy cisterns Palestinian shepherds use to collect rainwater. Israel’s debilitating system of checkpoints and population-movement controls remains very much in place.
So what does Romney do? He arrives in Jerusalem to deliver a pandering speech that avoids all mention of the Palestine and Palestinians. He repeats almost verbatim Israeli talking points on Iran; one Israeli report described the speech as essentially Romney mouthing Netanyahu’s words. Perhaps we are witnessing a novel twist on the concept of “puppet state.”
Later, at fundraiser for rich Israeli-American donors, Romney went on a riff about Israel’s wealth and Palestinian poverty — which he attributes to Providence and Culture — praising Israeli entrepreneurialism, while ignoring entirely the structures of occupation. Israeli brilliance is contrasted with Palestinian sloth. Imagine what Mitt might have said had he visited occupied Ireland in the 1840s!